San Diego, California - A change of command ceremony was held aboard USS Essex (LHD 2), yesterday where Captain Peter M. Mantz relieved Captain Joker L. Jenkins as Essex's commanding officer.

"You have worked together time and time again to achieve and exceed our command goals under challenging conditions," said Jenkins. "You have all proven yourselves as great professionals who continue to perform at a top level."

During Jenkins's tenure, the amphibious assault ship completed a historic 20-month Dry-Dock Planned Maintenance Availability (DPMA). The "Iron Gator" received more than $230 million worth of DPMA-related repairs and upgrades including complete overhauls on the flight deck, boilers, communication systems and the hull.

After two years of dry-dock and pier side maintenance, Essex executed an on-time underway to conduct sea trials in April 2014. Essex also received an aviation certification in May 2014 by showing proficiency in the launching, landing and refueling of various helicopters and MV-22 Ospreys on the flight deck.

"As a crew you have answered a higher call to make Essex better and have made the lives of those around us better," said Jenkins. "I'm honored for the privilege to have lead and worked with you for an excellent command tour."

Mantz, a native of Hampton Roads,Va., received his commission in 1990 from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) Virginia Military Academy (VM1) in Lexington, Va. He came to Essex as the Executive officer after serving as the Chief of Staff for the J-9 Directorate at U.S. Joint Forces Command, Norfolk, Va.

"I look forward to commanding our ship and to working toward our goal of being prepared and ready for deployment," said Mantz. "Our ship's motto "Take Notice" is synonymous to me with action and relevance as a United States Navy warship and I look forward to continuing the great legacy Captain Jenkins has built here."

Mantz's tours of duty include USS Constellation (CV 64), HC-6, USS George Washington (CVN 73), U.S. Joint Forces Command, and served as the commanding officer of HSC-28.

Essex is currently in a cycle of pre-deployment training exercises to prepare the ship and crew for a deployment in 2015.