By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
" Fourteen U.S. Navy ships and their aircraft and 17,000 sailors and Marines are now involved in the in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in Japan, a Defense Department spokesman said here today.
Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan said the military effort has included 113 helicopter sorties and 125 fixed-wing sorties, moving people and supplies, helping in search and rescue efforts, and delivering 129,000 gallons of water and 4,200 pounds of food.
The USS Tortuga, with heavy-lift MH-53 helicopters aboard, has completed loading 273 Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force troops, 93 vehicles and equipment for delivery tomorrow in Onimato, he said.
The USS Blue Ridge, the command ship for Navy Vice Adm. Scott R. Van Buskirk, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, is scheduled to arrive tomorrow and is expected to remain in the area, Lapan said.
The USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry and the USS Germantown -- with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard -- will remain on the western side [of Honshu] rather than transit around to the east because of the at-sea debris field and the radiation hazard, " he added.
The hazard was created by tsunami damage to reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Some Navy airmen and sailors participating in relief missions off the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan were exposed in the past few days to low-level radiation, and 17 crew members underwent decontamination procedures, Lapan said.
The Reagan and its escort ships have moved north, but remain in the vicinity, he said.
The 2,200-member expeditionary unit, Lapan said, will move to Sendai to help in cleaning up the military airport there.
The United States also has delivered two fire trucks from military bases for use by the Japanese, who have since requested more hoses and pumps.
The USNS Safeguard delivered high-pressure water pumps to Yokota Air Base for transfer to the Japanese government for use at the Fukushima power plant, 7th Fleet officials said, and four more pumps were delivered from Sasebo this afternoon.
Air Force C-17s and C-130s delivered 19 generators to Misawa Air Base for the base`s power system and resupply pallets to Yokota Air Base. U.S. Pacific Command officials said both bases are recovering from the earthquake and tsunami and are supporting relief efforts in their regions.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Japan District provided an administration system to help the U.S. Army Japan disaster assessment team with debris-removal efforts. The corps is working on a plan to clear debris from airfields critical to logistics and humanitarian missions, and is helping U.S. Army Japan to deliver 50,000 water bottles to disaster survivors.