SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia - When U.S. and royal Cambodian navies began their 2nd annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Cambodia exercise Oct. 20, three Sailors assigned to guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) were looking forward to the week ahead more than others. For them, it would be their first visit to their ancestral homeland.
Gas Turbine Systems Technician 3rd Class Channy Sath, Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Suorth Suom, and Storekeeper 2nd Class Sokchamroeun Yous were born in, or grew up in, the U.S. after their parents fled the genocide of Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia from 1975-1979, and the nearly two decades of civil war that followed. Sath grew up in Lowell, Mass; Suom in Philadelphia, and Yous in Texas. All three eventually joined the Navy and, in a twist of good fortune, were able to visit their homeland when Kidd was selected to participate in CARAT Cambodia.
"This is my first time to visit Cambodia," Suom said, explaining how his family slipped across the border with Thailand in 1979 to escape the war. "My family, they miss the country and their way of life before the war."
For Sath, whose family left Cambodia for America in 1990, the visit was an opportunity to meet several relatives, for the first time.
"My dad used to tell me about Cambodia, and how I was fortunate to come to America, because the war was unforgettable," Sath said. "I was really happy knowing that we were coming to Cambodia, and I was looking forward to meeting my family members I've never seen."
While in Cambodia, Sath was given special liberty to travel to Phnom Penh, the nation's capital, and to Siem Reap to stay with family. "I couldn't help it - when we saw each other we all started crying. My family members were so happy that I had come to visit them."
For Yous, the exercise presented an opportunity to embark a royal Cambodian navy patrol craft for the first dedicated at-sea naval exercise between Cambodia and the U.S. Navy in nearly 40 years.
Though he didn't get to visit relatives on this trip, Suom said the experience was unforgettable. "I was excited to come here, even though I just stayed in the Sihanoukville area," he said. "I was excited and humbled to come here."
Approximately 400 U.S. Sailors are participating in CARAT Cambodia 2011. Two U.S. ships, Kidd and the dive and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50), are participating.
CARAT is a series of annual, bilateral maritime exercises between the U.S. Navy and the Armed Forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.