By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Fidel C. Hart, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs
TOMAKOMAI, Japan - Sailors and Marines from 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), embarked 7th Fleet staff and Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Pacific (FASTPAC) completed a port visit to Tomakomai, Japan, Feb. 8.
The crew experienced the culture and sights of the city, and participated in tours and community service events (COMSERVs) in Tomakomai and the surrounding area.
"This was a tremendous port visit for the crew of USS Blue Ridge, with opportunities to see the Sapporo Snow and Ice Festival and participating in the Tomakomai Ice Skate Festival," said Blue Ridge Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Ralston. "It is great to see our Sailors and Marines out in town strengthening bonds during community service projects, building friendships on liberty and sharing the differences and similarities in our intertwined cultures."
The ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) committee provided a variety of tours to the nearby city of Sapporo, which was holding the 63rd Annual Sapporo Snow and Ice Festival.
Several Sailors participated in COMSERV projects at the Tomakomai Ice Skate Festival, assisting local children onto a snow slide and pushing a giant sled. Lt. Donald Baker, Blue Ridge chaplain, said that it was a unique way for the Sailors and the citizens of Tomakomai to interact.
"I've done more than 100 COMSERV projects and this is the most fun I have had on one," said Baker. "There is great energy and excitement from both the Sailors and the citizens. The energy is contagious and has rubbed off on every one involved. This is exactly what you want a community service event to be."
Many Sailors experienced Tomakomai for the first time.
"I am enjoying myself and have never seen anything like this [Sapporo's snow and ice sculptures] before," said Yeoman 3rd Class Brittnea Noe. Noe, on her first port visit with Blue Ridge, said the sea mammals snow sculpture depicting detailed carvings of a blue whale, walrus, dolphins and sea lions, was her favorite. "I would love to return and visit because I know the snow sculptures change every year and they are amazing."
Blue Ridge is commanded by Capt. Daniel Grieco and serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force (CTF) 76, the Navy's only forward deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operations detachment in Sasebo, Japan.