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Essex Departs Cambodia After Historic Port Visit

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS071204-06
Release Date: 12/4/2007 4:05:00 PM


From USS Essex Public Affairs

SIHANOUKVILLE, Kingdom of Cambodia (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) departed the Kingdom of Cambodia Dec. 2, after completing a six-day port visit to the Sihanoukville area and surrounding cities.

While in port, the ship's approximately 2,500 Sailors and Marines participated in community relations projects, medical and dental assistance projects and professional military exchanges. The ship's crew and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) also had a chance to participate in embassy activities, cultural exchanges and friendship-building activities.

"Essex Sailors touched the lives of thousands of Cambodians. They have enriched the lives of young children by visiting local schools and interacting with the students," said Capt. Brian Donegan, Essex commanding officer. "The medical and dental services Sailors and Marines provided improved the health and well being of thousands."

U.S. Navy doctors, dentists and corpsman from Essex and 31st MEU medical and dental departments conducted two three-day-long Medical Civic Action Projects and Dental Civic Action Projects to help the people of Kampong Cham and the remote village of Kulen, Nov. 28-30.

U.S., Cambodian and non-governmental organization health care teams worked side-by-side to perform medical and dental examinations, procedures and pharmacy support to residents of both areas.

"This is the first opportunity I have had out in the field doing this type of mission and I think we really made a positive impact on these people," said Staff Internist, Cmdr. Jeff Winebrenner. "We were able to provide primary care, which is not available here."

The teams performed services ranging from tooth extractions to elderly care.

"I like helping people and this event gave me the opportunity to help a lot of people who cannot help themselves," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (FMF) Judd Kale. "The people were really appreciative of our efforts and they were eager to interact with us."

Along with medical care, Essex Sailors and Marines distributed mosquito netting and interacted with the local children in an effort to strengthen relations between U.S. service members and the Cambodian people.

In the Kampong Chh'nang province, Marines from the 31st MEU partnered with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), to join the Gendarme, engineers and laborers in the reconstruction of two bridges linking the villages of Sre Sa and Oloy. The Marines brought two large truck-loads of construction materials which made this week-long project possible.

Professional exchanges between Sailors, Marines, and RCAF were held at the National Defense University in Phnom Penh and at several other sites around the country.

In the Sihanoukville area, Sailors and Marines visited the Hun Sen Krong Primary School, Hun Sen Mittapheap Primary School, Chamka Kaosu Primary School, and the orphanage Village D'Enfantes to take part in friendship building activities, pass out gifts and play games with the children. They also helped clean and paint the schoolhouses.

Those participating in the projects said that events like these come with intangible benefits and are something they will remember forever. The exchanges also brought smiling faces and visible happiness to the children.

"The children are such a joy," said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Rosemary Colbert. "I had a blast teaching and playing with the children."

The ship's crew also distributed several pallets of Project Handclasp material to the schools and the orphanage. Project Handclasp is a U.S. Navy program that provides donated items to agencies and organizations in countries that could benefit from those materials.

"At each engagement opportunity, Sailors and Marines made a significant difference in the lives of thousands of people in need," said Donegan. "This port visit has been absolutely historic and is one of the most significant engagement activities in the Pacific this year."

Sailors and Marines were also invited to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh to participate in the 2nd Annual Christmas Lighting Ceremony, which was followed by a Christmas party held to distribute gifts to local Cambodian children from Friends and Little Folks orphanages.

"The Sailors and Marines of Essex did an outstanding job in the Kingdom of Cambodia," said Capt. Anthony Pachuta, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11. "I think the ambassadors from Essex will help pave the way for future port visits by Navy ships."

The visit concluded with Essex hosting a shipboard reception for more than 500 distinguished guests, where the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, the Cambodia Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense thanked the Sailors and Marines for their contributions. Also in attendance were the deputy commander in chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and Chief of Joint Staff, secretary of state and Ministry of National Defense.

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.

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