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Fletcher finds friends in Chennai

7th Fleet Release

Release Date: 5/14/2004

Lt. j.g. Lesley Smith, USS Fletcher public affairs

CHENNAI, India -- The Spruance-class destroyer, USS Fletcher (DD 992), pulled into Chennai, India, on April 29 for a goodwill visit and some rest and relaxation. The ship was met by significant Indian national news media and greeted warmly by local officials and members of the Indian navy.

The ship hosted a reception for members of the U.S. Consulate, Indian naval officers, and local officials. During the celebration a cake was cut in honor of the friendly ties between these two navies. The following night the Indian Naval Officers invited Fletcher's Wardroom to a social in their mess and encouraged officers to try various curries and pastries native to the area.

In addition to the celebrations, crewmembers also participated in a basketball game against the Indian navy, the victory going to Fletcher, and a golf tournament, in which the outcome was not as favorable for the American Team.

While Fletcher Sailors eagerly presented their ship during organized tours, the people of Chennai were just as anxious to introduce the Sailors to local food, shops, and tourist attractions.

Twenty-five Sailors volunteered to participate in a daylong community relations project at the Don Bosco Anbu Illam ("Home of Love") for orphaned boys May 1. Those crewmembers painted a schoolhouse, laid a cement driveway, and handed out clothing and toys to the children.

When the Sailors arrived, the bus was crowded with small children looking to hold their hands. The boys, ranging in age from six to 14, eagerly showed the strangers around their small home.

As Father Arokiasamy Arpudharaj showed the crewmembers what was needed, they quickly divided themselves into groups and began working.

Electrician's Mate 2nd Class (SW) Rodney Hopes led the efforts to mix cement. He quickly discovered that they did not have wheelbarrows or shovels. His team used small metal trays to mix together a pile of crushed brick, sand, and cement powder then wetted the mixture with pitchers of water. The crew formed a line and passed the mixture from one person to the next until it reached the driveway.

"It was some of the hardest work that I have ever done, but by far the most rewarding," Hopes said.

Jennifer Bout from the U.S. Consulate in Chennai explained that it would cost the home approximately six dollars a day per a laborer and that they were unable to afford to hire the needed help. Fletcher's assistance made the greatly needed repairs to the children's schoolhouse possible.

Fletcher's Command Master Chief (SW) George Dwyer stated, "As U.S. Navy Sailors, Fletcher's crewmembers already live a lifestyle of service. Our work with the Don Bosco Anbu Illam orphanage showed many in this community the sincere motivation of Americans to make a difference."

Lt. j.g. Janelle Alexander, Fletcher's Combat Information Center officer, said she enjoyed the experience.

"I had so much fun and it was so nice to see guys from the ship making these children smile - to be able to give them presents and spend time with them. I wish I could do it again," she said.

Dwyer felt the same stating, "There was a bond made between the social workers who run the orphanage and our Sailors. In each other, we saw people committed to a worthy cause larger than ourselves."

As the group said their goodbyes to the children and climbed back onto the bus one of the Sailors was heard to remark, "This very well could have been the most important thing I have done in my life."

The visit was a great success, and both the city of Chennai and the Fletcher's crew parted with new friendships and a greater understanding of one another's culture.

Fletcher has been forward deployed for nearly two years as part of the Navy's experimental Sea Swap Program. The former crew of the USS Elliot (DD 967) is the fourth crew onboard Fletcher and is currently sailing back to their San Diego homeport after a six-month deployment in support of operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

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