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Arriving almost a week ago, U.S. marines who were involved in the 2003 invasion of Iraq now are playing a vital role in helping survivors of the December 26 earthquake and tsunamis in Indonesia.
Their helicopters and hovercraft have been constantly shuttling relief supplies including water, rice and medical equipment ashore to the once-scenic town of Meulaboh, where more than 28,000 lives were lost.
Airborne reconnaissance missions from the carrier also are helping to look for isolated survivors in the surrounding rural region. This is part of an unprecedented multi-national humanitarian effort following the deaths of more than 110,000 people in Indonesia.
With about 3,000 marines and sailors aboard, the USS Bonhomme Richard leads several other ships from Expeditionary Strike Group 5 working off Meulaboh.
They supplement a U.S. Navy aid operation using the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and other vessels closer to the provincial capital of Banda Aceh, more than 120 miles to the northwest.
The ships have been joined this week by P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft flying from Utapao, Thailand, said Captain J. Scott Jones, commander of the Bonhomme Richard.
Used during the invasion of Iraq, the aircraft have heat sensors which can help spot isolated groups of displaced people in need of assistance, he said.