The United States has sent the USS Essex and the USS Harper's Ferry to assist in rescue and relief efforts after the mudslides in the Philippines, that have killed at least 1800 people. These ships constitute the bulk of a Marine Expeditionary Unit, and can provide an excellent mix of hospital facilities, helicopters, and manpower for the relief effort.
The Essex is a Wasp-class assault ship, displacing 40,500 tons at full load, with a top speed of over 37 kilometers per hour, can carry three air-cushion landing craft, and operates 22 helicopters and six Harrier attack planes. The Essex also has superb medical facilities, which are capable of handling complex injuries.
The Harper's Ferry is the lead ship in a class of four landing ship docks that are optimized for carrying cargo. These ships displace 16,400 tons at full load, carry two air-cushion landing craft, and have a top speed of 37 kilometers per hour. The Harper's Ferry will probably be providing a great deal of supplies, including rations and vehicles like the Humvee, AAVP-7 amtracs, and five-ton trucks to transport supplies around Leyte.
Amphibious vessels have conducted numerous relief missions. In the past 15 years, these errands of mercy (in the wake of disasters like the Bangladesh Cyclone in 1991, Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, the Indonesian tsunami of 2004, and now the 2006 Leyte mudslides). This is far different from their envisioned role of amphibious assault. Still, they are advancing and protecting American interests, often because their presence is visible to the people affected by disasters, and that will make the jobs those who recruit for al Qaeda or similar organizations much harder, since the locals will remember the Marines who came to assist after the disaster. - Harold C. Hutchison (email@example.com)