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Whidbey Island, 22nd MEU Conclude Port Visit in Malta

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS120117-05

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Rachael L. Leslie and Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW/AW) Desiree D. Green, USS Bataan Public Affairs

VALETTA, Malta (NNS) -- Deployed Sailors and Marines aboard amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) concluded a four-day port visit in Valetta, Malta, Jan. 16.

The crew hosted a dinner reception aboard the ship Jan. 13, assisted with refurbishing a public park Jan. 14, and enjoyed tours and time off around the island during the visit.

"We are extremely excited to be here in Malta before we head back home to the cold of the east coast of America," said Cmdr. Eric L. Conzen, commanding officer in his opening remarks during the reception. "Thank you for allowing us to enjoy your country and for your hospitality. We are happy to have you and we hope that you enjoy your evening here with us."

The reception honored dignitaries from Malta, as well as from Russia and France. They met with crew members during the reception, and enjoy a guided tour of the ship following the meal.

The ship's Religious Ministries Division coordinated a community relations project at the Park of Friendship in Valetta, a public park and zoo. The park allows local families with special needs children to sponsor and visit the animals throughout the year.

"It is a great morale booster to know that you are helping someone else," said Religious Program Specialist 1st Class (SW/FMF) Michael Willis. "These projects help us to understand other cultures as well as our own culture better, and help make us more well-rounded people, and more well-rounded Sailors and Marines. Diversity is an important subject to the Navy. What better way to learn about diversity than by participating in COMREL projects in a foreign country. Everyone benefits."

Seventeen Sailors and Marines spent the day digging a trench to allow park employees access to an underground water pipe, sanding and varnishing benches and fences on the grounds, organizing a recreational equipment storage facility, and removing trash and debris from the grounds.

"It felt absolutely wonderful to be able to lend a helping hand to an organization that helps kids with special needs," said 1st Sgt. Charles McDew, of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), who participated in the event. "This helps build much needed relationships between the U.S. and other countries."

The ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation committee also coordinated three tours for the crew to enjoy while in Malta. The tours offered a prehistoric-themed trip to the famed three cities of Vittoriosa, Cospicua, and Marsamxett, and included visits to the megalithic temples of Tarxien, and the city of Birzebbuga to visit Ghar Dalam, which is a 144 meter long natural cave renowned for containing the remains of animals that lived on the island thousands of years ago.

"The prehistoric tour of Valetta, Malta and the surrounding areas was a complete success. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and helpful in explaining every aspect of the tour," said Fire Controlman 2nd Class Marco Delafuente, from Harlingen, Texas.

"I had no idea the depth in history or the significance this small island had in the control of the Mediterranean from the Bronze Age all the way up to World War II. I thoroughly enjoyed this tour, and would highly recommend it, or any tour of Malta any chance one can."

Another tour afforded the crew a chance to visit the famed three cities, yet also included an afternoon cruise around the Mediterranean Sea's only natural harbor in Marsamxett, which offered photographers a unique perspective of the island and its harbors.

"The tour was very educational and fun. I especially like the way the tour guide was conscious of our attentiveness, extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the heritage and history of her country," said Personnel Specialist 1st Class (SW/FMF) Darryl Thomas, from New Orleans.

"I like the walk through the cities stopping for coffee and most of all, learning about similarities between our cultures...."

Whidbey Island deployed March 23, 2011 as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group which consists of approximately 4,000 Sailors and Marines to conduct a variety of missions, including forward naval presence, maritime security operations, and theater security cooperation efforts as directed by fleet and joint task force commanders.

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