By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman James Norman, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs
BUSAN, Republic of Korea - USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) arrived in Busan, Republic of Korea (ROK), Aug. 13, in support of Commander U.S. 7th Fleet's participation in combined forces exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian, alongside the ROK navy.
While in Busan, Blue Ridge and embarked U.S. 7th Fleet Sailors will be directly engaged in the annual exercise, which strengthens U.S. and ROK forces' interoperability and capability to defend the ROK through field exercises and cyber scenarios.
"The purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to the ROK-U.S. alliance and enhance the combat readiness of ROK and U.S. supporting forces through combined and joint training," said Blue Ridge's Executive Officer Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Ralston. "During the coming weeks, our Sailors will work closely with their ROK military counterparts to build upon relationships vital to achieving our shared goals.
Sailors will also have the opportunity to participate in community service (COMSERV) projects, enjoying the local culture of Busan.
COMSERV project volunteers are slated to visit the Blue Bird Senior Citizen's Center, where Sailors and Marines will go on walks and sing songs with the residents.
Volunteers will also visit Hee Rak-Wan Children's Welfare Facility and Jinhae Hope Children's Home, where they will play games with children and help clean the grounds of the facilities.
"I can't wait to play with the local boys and girls at the children's home that I'm volunteering for," said Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Nicolette Lockwood. "It's always a pleasant experience seeing the children's faces light up whenever our Sailors enter the room."
Many Sailors will also have the opportunity to take part in Morale, Welfare and Recreation-sponsored tours which will include the shopping district of Osan and the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
"This is my third time to South Korea," said Fire Controlman 3rd Class Mark Jean. "I always look forward to coming here. The different foods they offer here are always good and I'm constantly finding something I've never seen before."
There are also several sporting events such as basketball, soccer and volleyball in which U.S. Sailors will compete against ROK sailors. Sailors will also take to the street for the U.S. 7th Fleet-ROKN Liberation Day 5K run with ROK navy sailors Aug. 15.
Blue Ridge serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force and is forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.