Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Essex Arrives in Cambodia

SIHANOUKVILLE, Kingdom of Cambodia (NNS) -- The amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) arrived in Sihanoukville, Nov. 26 for a scheduled port visit along with embarked Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

"Essex Sailors are honored to have the opportunity to visit the Kingdom of Cambodia as part of the broadening and deepening relations between our navies and our two governments," said Capt. Brian T. Donegan, Essex's commanding officer. "This visit will provide our crew a unique opportunity to gain an appreciation for the rich traditions and culture of Cambodia's people."

While in port, the ship's approximately 2,500 Sailors and Marines are scheduled to participate in community relations projects, medical and dental assistance events and professional military exchanges. The ship's crew and embarked Marines will participate in cultural exchanges and friendship-building activities.

Essex's visit to Cambodia marks the first time an amphibious assault ship has visited the country and marks the second U.S. Navy ship visit in 2007. USS Gary's (FFG 51) visit in February was the first U.S. ship to visit the Kingdom of Cambodia in more than 30 years.

The Essex and 31st MEU medical and dental departments will conduct Medical and Dental Civic Action Programs (MEDCAP and DENCAP) in the Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Cham areas with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

"Essex medical department and Fleet Surgical Team 7 are excited about working with the Marines in these friendship-building activities with the people of Cambodia," said Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (SW/AW) Mark Davison. "The Blue-Green team recognizes the historical significance of these events and have the opportunities to provide care to those who would otherwise have limited or no access to health care in some rural areas."

Another tradition that Sailors and Marines can look forward to are community service projects.

"There are six community relations projects scheduled while we are in Cambodia where more than 400 Sailors and Marines will conduct meaningful community service," said Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Sweeney, Essex's chaplain. "Participating in these community relations activities allows our service members the opportunity to meet people in the local community and interact in activities like sports or something like painting at a local school."

The ship's crew also will distribute several pallets of Project Handclasp material to various non-governmental agencies in the Sihanoukville area. Project Handclasp is a U.S. Navy program that provides donated items to agencies and organizations in countries that could benefit from those materials.

Operating in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, the U.S. 7th Fleet is the largest of the forward-deployed U.S. fleets, with approximately 50 ships, 120 aircraft and 20,000 Sailors and Marines assigned at any given time.

Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for Commander, Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

Sailors and Marines board a CH-46E Sea Knight, assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 265, after the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) arrived off the coast of Sihanoukville, Kingdom of Cambodia. (US Navy Photo)