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Essex Sailors Lend a Helping Hand in Thailand

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS100221-02
Release Date: 2/21/2010 10:26:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Matthew Ebarb

SUMNAKTHON, Thailand (NNS) -- More than 50 Sailors from the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit volunteered to help refurbish the Wat Sakeaw School in Sumnakthon, Thailand Feb. 17.

Volunteers spent the day improving the facility and making minor repairs, including painting exterior surfaces and replacing roofing fixtures.

"It was a great event that allowed us to help a school of 480 students," said Capt. Troy L. Hart, Essex commanding officer. "Any time we get a chance to do something constructive with our hosts, it's always a good thing, and it's something we love to do. Knowing your crew made a difference is one of the most heartwarming feelings you can have as a commanding officer. Getting the mission done and everyone home safely is priority one, but when we can help others along the way, it helps us to inspire friendship with our allies and partner nations."

Essex Sailors also helped some of the older students set up tents in a nearby field as a part of a boy scout project before serving lunch to the entire school.

"We were very glad to have the Sailors visit us today," said Ubon Chatkow, Wat Sakeaw School's assistant principal. "It was a good experience for the students. They really enjoyed the food, as it is something many of them haven't gotten to try before. We got a good impression of the people, and it shows that we aren't just allies with our militaries but as people, we are friends."

Essex routinely conducts community service projects in almost all her port visits. The projects aim to establish personal friendships with host nations alongside the military working relationships.

"As soon as we got there, the crew was eager to get to work," said Lt. Jason Rochester, Essex staff chaplain. "From the time we got there until the time we left, we were busy working and playing with the kids. I think doing things like this says that we care about the people of our host nation. We're not just coming here to have a good time on liberty - we also want to invest in the people that we've come to see by sharing some things with them."

For many Sailors, like Yeoman Seaman Hans Handschin, of Cookeville, Tenn., the occasion was their first opportunity to participate in a community service project with an ally nation.

"This is a very gratifying experience. You start out to do this to help the less fortunate, but when you see the smiles you get so much more out of it on a personal level," said Handschin.

The project was conducted during the Essex Amphibious Ready Group's (ARG) four-day port visit to Laem Chabang, Thailand. The Essex ARG recently completed exercise Cobra Gold 2010, an annual, bi-lateral exercise hosted by the Kingdom of Thailand.

Essex, commanded by Capt. Troy Hart, is part of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group and is currently conducting spring patrol in the Western Pacific.

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