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Vandegrift concludes diplomatic visit to Dili

7th Fleet Release

Release Date: 5/21/2004

Ensign Tracie Weber, USS Vandegrift public affairs

ABOARD USS VANDEGRIFT -- USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) anchored off the coast of Dili, Timor-Leste on Wednesday, May 19 for two days in support of the United States' ongoing commitment to the world's newest democracy and its Independence Day.

Crewmembers completed a busy schedule inport Dili, including two luncheons, numerous tours of the ship for dignitaries, attending the United Nations turnover ceremony, and a private flag raising ceremony at the newly renovated American Embassy.

Luncheon attendees included the United States Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, Grover Joseph Rees, Lieutenant General Khairuddin Mat Yusof, Force Commander as well as numerous Timor-Leste cabinet members.

"Timor-Leste wants a close relationship with the U.S." commented Ambassador Rees on why Vandegrift's visit was important, "not only because they believe it enhances their security but also because they share our commitment to freedom and democracy. Our military is particularly popular with the Timorese people."

At the conclusion of lunch, Ambassador Rees presented Vandegrift's Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Rich Rogers of Moscow, Idaho, a traditional Timorese woven Tais (pronounced, "ties."). Tais translates to "clothing" and are similar to scarves, but can be wrapped around the waist or body.

Following the gift exchange ceremony, the Ambassador and commanding officer attended the United Nations turnover ceremony in which the nation of Timor-Leste assumed responsibility for their internal and external policing security. Since Timor-Leste received its independence from Indonesia in 2002, the U.S. has been one of over 40 UN nations providing both internal and external support to the newly formed democracy.

"There were many highlights of the visit," noted Rogers. "The two I particularly enjoyed were the dignitary lunches we hosted on Vandegrift and the UN Medal Parade."

But the Captain wasn't the only Vandegrift Sailor to see the sights of the new nation. Sonar Technician 3rd Class (SW) Jeremiah Walton of Cleveland, Ohio, and Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Allan E. Garrigus of Manistee, Mich., also toured Timor-Leste.

The Sailors attended a private flag raising ceremony at the American Embassy in which the Vandegrift's national Ensign was raised to the top of the jack staff. The flag was later lowered and given to the Embassy as a token of Vandegrift's appreciation, presented by Walton.

"Meeting the Ambassador was great," commented Walton, "but what will forever stand in my mind is the extreme level of hardship the East Timorese are still forced to endure, despite having overcome so much. They have achieved freedom, now they must focus on security. It was apparent to me in just a few short hours that they still have a long way to go. I wish them all of the luck in the world."

The Sailors also got a chance to contribute to the local economy when they went shopping in one of the village markets.

"The shopping was great," recalled Garrigus. "The entire experience was thrilling, simply thrilling."

On the last day at anchor, the Vandegrift sailors hosted a steel beach picnic where the best of American hospitality, music, and bar-b-que was on display for several U.S. Embassy and United Nations guests.

Diplomacy is a large part of American Naval tradition, and USS Vandegrift's visit to Timor-Leste is a testament not only to Naval tradition but to democracy as well.

Vandegrift is forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan as part of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet and has a complement of approximately 250 Sailors.

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