Saturday, October 31, 2009

USS John L. Hall Visits Klaipeda, Lithuania

By Lt. j.g. T.J. Orth, USS John L. Hall Public Affairs

USS JOHN L. HALL, At Sea (NNS) -- The guided-missile frigate USS John L. Hall (FFG 32) recently completed a theater security cooperation (TSC) port visit to Klaipeda, Lithuania.

The port visit was an opportunity for Sailors from the John L. Hall to interact with their counterparts from the Lithuanian Navy and the people of Lithuania.

John L. Hall Sailors, along with the embarked Sailors of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 48 Detachment 9, completed several community relations (COMREL) events.

The Sailors attended a reception in their honor hosted by the Lithuanian Navy.

A city that dates back almost 800 years, Klaipeda is Lithuania's only seaport and is home to their Navy. The Lithuanian Navy provided excellent support to the ship and crew, and immediately helped them get involved with the local community. Upon the ship's arrival Oct. 21, John L. Hall's Commanding Officer Cmdr. Derek M. Lavan was met by the local media. Questions centered on why the ship was visiting Klaipeda, why the U.S. Navy was in the Baltic Sea, and what they hoped to achieve while in Lithuania.

"We are here as part of the United States Navy's continuing presence in the Baltic Sea to promote maritime safety and security, which is necessary to ensure freedom of the seas, safe navigation and commerce, to advance prosperity and freedom, and to protect the resources of the oceans," Lavan said. "We are also here to work with the Lithuanian Navy, who has been a valuable partner and our visit here is part of the ongoing relationship between our two countries and our two navies."

Beginning on the first day in port, crew members participated in several COMREL projects. One group of Sailors spoke to students at the Juodkrante Sea Cadet School. Another group of Sailors delivered Project Handclasp materials to the Caritas Elderly Home and the Rytas Orphanage. Project Handclasp is a program where Americans can donate educational and humanitarian goods to be transported overseas by Navy ships. Not only did the Sailors deliver these donated supplies, they toured the facilities, spoke with the residents, and taught the children at the orphanage some American dance moves while learning local Lithuanian dances.

"The Sailors of John L. Hall worked so hard preparing for the TSC port visit and to see them out in town interacting with the Lithuanian people made me very proud to be a Chaplain," said Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Philip Bagrow, of the Surface Ministries Center.

For many Sailors, the highlight of the port visit was a joint clean-up of Melnrage Beach with Lithuanian Sailors. They were joined by Ambassador Anne Derse, members of the U.S. Embassy, and received very positive coverage by local television and newspapers.

"I really thought it was good and I really didn't know how much the people of Klaipeda would appreciate us cleaning a beach," said Boatswain's Mate 1st Class (SW) Anthony Robinson. "It was great to get out and work with the Lithuanian Sailors on a COMREL project and then to have lunch and talk with them was an experience I won't soon forget."

This event was followed by a barbecue with traditional American and Lithuanian foods cooked by Sailors from both navies and a basketball game between Lithuanian and U.S. Sailors. The John L. Hall team suffered a narrow defeat to the Lithuanian team, who has an unbeaten record against every U.S. Navy ship that has visited in the past several years.

On the last day in port, the crew hosted a reception on board. Derse joined Lavan in welcoming the governor, mayor, members of parliament, and members of all branches of the Lithuanian military and thanked them for their outstanding hospitality. This reception capped an excellent port visit that continued to build the strong relationship between the two countries.

"I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with our peers in the Lithuanian Navy, a chance to show off our ship and to see the pride the Sailors had for their Navy was a memorable experience," said Lt. Adams, John L. Hall supply officer.

"TSC engagements are very challenging but well worth the investment. What a fantastic county with great people and culture," said John L. Hall's Command Master Chief Dion Beauchamp. "The Sailors on board had a unique opportunity to meet and talk with senior non-commissioned officers, take tours of Lithuanian ships, ask questions of the Command Sergeant Major of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and the Lithuanian Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. They worked side by side cleaning a popular beach in Klaipeda. TSC engagements are truly the best way to see the world and get to know Sailors from other countries."