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Whidbey Island, 22nd MEU Give Back in Naples

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS120123-02

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW/AW) Desiree D. Green, USS Whidbey Island Public Affairs

NAPLES, Italy (NNS) -- Deployed Sailors and Marines aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) spent five days in Naples, Italy during a scheduled port visit Jan. 17-22.

Nearly 50 members of the crew participated in two community relations projects, volunteering at the Suore Missionarie Della Carita (Sister of Charity) homeless shelter and at Centro Laila, an organization that helps abandoned and disadvantaged youths.

"After 10 months of being underway, some might expect our Sailors and Marines to be in their racks getting some well-deserved rest or maybe going out to do some sight-seeing," said Lt. Ken Espinosa, command chaplain. "Instead, they dedicated a big portion of their day to volunteering in the local community. That speaks volumes of the type of people we have on board. Their willingness to do work that benefits others when they could be getting some well-deserved rest and relaxation always amazes me."

"It allows us to show our support and that we genuinely care about other people," said Cpl. Jerome Stafford, assigned to the 22nd Marines Expeditionary Unit (22nd MEU), who participated at the homeless shelter. "I think that when we do things like this, we leave a positive impression on the countries that we are visiting."

The project at the shelter involved washing the walls and windows in the chapel and classrooms. Participants also swept, mopped and moved furniture up several flights of stairs.

Volunteers then assisted in caring for an elderly citizen who arrived unexpectedly in an ambulance, and helped transport him up to a room for treatment.

"I think the experience at the shelter was the highlight of the day for them," said Religious Programs Specialist 1st Class Michael Willis. "It was great to see their sense of joy about having an opportunity to serve others in that way."

Many volunteers agreed that it builds camaraderie amongst the crew.

"It is a huge morale booster," said Stafford. "I believe that when we are given these opportunities to help out, we need to take full advantage of them. It has a way of making us stronger as a team when Sailors and Marines band together to help others."

During the second day of community service events, the Whidbey Island team cleaned and played table games and a game of soccer with the children of Centro Laila.

"It was a lot of fun," said Damage Controlman 2nd Class Marrisa Washington. "All of the kids were between the ages of three and seven so when we got there they were a little nervous, but it felt so good to see them eventually warm up to us. I love kids so this was an especially proud moment for me to spend my day with them."

Several service members who volunteered expressed that the experience was not only beneficial for those in need, but for them as well.

"It's important that we take time to do this so that we can appreciate what we have," said Washington. "You aren't really doing anything in life unless you are reaching out to others, especially children."

Whidbey Island deployed March 23, 2011 as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group. The Whidbey Island has spent the past 10 months supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet area of responsibility.

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