SANTA ANA, Panama - Crewmembers of guided missile frigate USS Gary (FFG 51) cleaned and painted a local Youth Outreach Center in a recent port visit just before the holidays as part of a Community Relations project Dec 21.
The building was originally owned by the Red Cross but was purchased by the city and later given to the Youth Outreach Center. Gary sailors were able to clear brush, paint the interior and clean the exterior of the building while also preparing a parking lot that will later become a children's playground.
"When we arrived we expected to do a lot of painting, so we brought a lot of paint. As it turned out, we cleaned a lot, took out trash, and only painted a little bit at the end," said Personnel Specialist Petty Officer Second Class Jayson Velasquez. "What I liked about it was that this wasn't just about the Navy or Gary, but the kids were involved, and cleaned and painted right alongside us. This was my first time doing this kind of project, but I would definitely do it again."
After their hard work, Gary's crew was treated to a traditional Panamanian lunch with a soup called "San Cocho". Gary's Command Senior Chief, Pablo Rosado had this to say afterward:
"It was a humbling experience for all the participants to see how much we can help a community plagued by poverty and crime. It's nice that there are places these kids can go to escape that, and I'm glad we could be a part of this. It was a great opportunity. We would love to do it again."
Gary is homeported in San Diego, and is currently deployed to Central and South America and the Caribbean in support of Operation Martillo and U.S. 4th Fleet's mission, Southern Seas 2012.
Operation Martillo (Spanish for "hammer") is a U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner nation effort targeting illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus. U.S. military participation is being led by Joint Interagency Task Force South, a component of U.S. Southern Command.
Operation Martillo is part of the U.S. government's coordinated regional security strategy in support of the White House strategy to combat transnational organized crime and the U.S. Central America Security Initiative.
Fourteen countries are participating: Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.