The LHD-7 is the second ship of this type to have the name of the famous island battle of World War 2, "Iwo Jima". The LHD is a helicopter dock landing amphibious assault ship. The ship's design was built around the need and requirement to house, transport and land a Marine battalion anywhere in the world that featured a coast line. Building on Iwo Jima began at Ingalls Shipyard in September of 1996 to which she was then launched on February 4th, 2000. On the ship's maiden voyage, this falling on June 23rd, 2001, her special guests appropriately included veterans of the World War 2 Battle of Iwo Jima itself. She was commissioned a week later in Pensacola, Florida, on June 30, 2001.
Iwo Jima sports two steam propulsion plants which are currently the largest such implements in operation with the US Navy. These systems generate a total of 400 tons of steam per hour to develop 77,000 shaft horsepower allowing for speeds in excess of 24 knots. She was built using more than 21,000 tons of steel, 400 tons of aluminum, 400 miles of electrical cables, 80 miles of piping and tubing of various types and sizes and 10 miles of ventilation ducting. Soon after her commissioning, the crew and the ship started the Inter Deployment Cycle - that is the age-old "shake down" cruise. Each system on the ship was to be tested under combat conditions, from the RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) surface-to-air missile systems to the installations within the kitchen - all areas being put through their paces.
The Iwo Jima and the Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26 MEU), along with two other amphibious assault ships, formed the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group. The 26 MEU is a quick-response force that requires only six hours of readiness notification and can be called upon to execute multiple mission types. These mission types range from combat operations, humanitarian assistance, non-combat evacuation, and security operations. The Navy Marine Corps team's newest amphibious warship has, as its primary mission, the support of a Marine Landing Force. USS Iwo Jima and her sister ships are the first to be specifically-designed to accommodate the new class of landing craft - the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) - for over-the-beach landing craft duty. Also onboard, the Marines utilize the McDonnell Douglas Harrier II (AV-8B), a vertical short take-off and landing (V/STOL) jet that provides close-air support for the advancing assault forces. To carry out its primary mission, the Iwo Jima also has an assault support system that provides troop landings by sea and/or by helicopters, even including the new and highly-advanced MV-22 Osprey VTOL tilt rotor aircraft. Flight operations are accomplished via two aircraft elevators that service the hangar bay and flight deck. Six cargo elevators, each measuring 13 by 26 feet, are used to transport material and supplies from the 110,000 cubic feet cargo holds throughout the ship to staging areas on the flight deck, hangar bay and vehicle storage area. Cargo is transferred to waiting landing craft docked within the ship's 1,200 square foot, 270 feet well deck. Helicopters in the hangar bay or on the flight deck are cargo-loaded by a forklift.
Iwo Jima has medical and dental facilities capable of providing medical treatment to 600 combat casualties or injuries if on humanitarian missions. Medical facilities onboard comprise of four main and two auxiliary emergency operating rooms, four dental operating rooms, 2 x-ray rooms, a blood bank, state-of-the art laboratories and patient ward rooms. Understanding that quick medical care saves lives, the ship has a casualty-collecting area at the flight deck level with three battle dressing stations. Close by are medical elevators to transfer casualties from the flight deck and hangar bay to the medical facilities based on the severity of a given injury. For the contentment of the 1,075 crewmembers and 1,897 Marine troops, all manned spaces and berthing areas are individually heated and air conditioned. Berthing areas are divided to provide semi-private spaces without adversely affecting space requirements. Deck and wall coverings are decorative, not like the plain grey walls of older ships. Mess areas have a restaurant atmosphere and are designed to feed large groups of personnel in minimal time. The ship has a well-stocked library with a multi-media center complete with internet access, an arcade room, weight room and satellite television.
In March 2003, USS Iwo Jima was ordered out in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and deployed Marines beginning in April from the Mediterranean Sea into Northern Iraq. In July 2003, the Iwo Jima deployed to the coast of Liberia as part of JTF Liberia in response to the Second Liberian Civil War. The Task Force Command aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) had the intent to keep a small Marine footprint ashore. On August 14, 2003, the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group conducted an amphibious landing operation consisting of 150 Marines at Roberts International Airport and 50 more at the Freeport of Monrovia on Bushrod Island. Nigerian soldiers, as part of the African defense force, also deployed peacekeeping forces. The area was stabilized by the Joint Task Force allowing the United Nations to distribute humanitarian aid as needed.
On August 31, 2005 Iwo Jima was sent to the Gulf of Mexico to provide disaster relief and to effect support operations in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Iwo Jima moved into the Mississippi River to the city of New Orleans to support relief operations and act as the central command center for all federal, state and local humanitarian operations there. The Iwo Jima also served as the region's only functional air field for helicopter operations. Marine helicopters flew more than one thousand flight deck sorties from the USS Iwo Jima. The crew and ship provided hot meals, showers, drinking water and sleeping quarters to National Guardsmen and relief workers while her impressive onboard medical facilities provided first aid and surgical services for disaster victims. The Iwo Jima also served as flagship to Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina Joint Task Force and is only one of two Navy ships to be presented the flag of the President of the United States.
In June 2006, the Iwo Jima left its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia and began a scheduled six-month deployment with the U.S. European Command as flagship for the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Groups 6,000 Sailors and Marines. On 16 February 2007, Iwo Jima was awarded the 2006 Battle "E" award. In 2002, 2004 and 2009, the Iwo Jima participated in the annual Fleet Week taking place off New York City.
The USS Makin Island LHD-8 is the eighth ship of the Wasp class; it will feature some noteworthy technological advances and will be commissioned in October 2009 in San Diego, California.