CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA (NNS) -- The future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) departed Cartagena, Colombia, July 19 after a three-day port visit.
This was the crew's first stop on the ship's maiden voyage, "America Visits the Americas," as the ship makes its way from Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi to its homeport of San Diego.
While in Colombia, the ship hosted a welcome reception in the ship's hangar bay. Distinguished guests included Dr. Kevin Whitaker, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia; Gen. John F. Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern Command; Juan Carlos Pinzon Bueno, Colombian Minister of National Defense; Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez Barragan, commanding officer, Colombia Military Forces; as well as local Colombian civilian dignitaries and military officials.
During the visit, the ship's military and civilian crew had the opportunity to experience their host nation and to serve as goodwill ambassadors.
"I enjoyed exploring the culture and tasting some local food while touring the city," said Marine Cpl. Jessica McGinnis, landing support specialist assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 13.
While anchored off the coast of Cartagena, the crew offloaded 52 pallets of medical supplies and toys to children suffering from terminal illnesses in the city. The supplies were delivered as part of Project Handclasp, a Navy program that accepts and transports educational, humanitarian and goodwill material donated by America's private sector for distribution to foreign nation recipients.
"Shipping this amount of cargo into Colombia would have cost a fortune for any charity organization. America on the other hand, did this at no extra cost to the taxpayer or to the volunteer organizations that provided the donations," said Lt. Cmdr. Jonathon Cox, America's assistant supply officer. "Just knowing where these items are headed, and knowing our crew has made a direct, positive impact on peoples' lives here in Colombia, was a powerful reminder that the Navy really is a global force for good."
Also during the visit, America's soccer team played a friendly match against the local Colombian naval team.
Although the America team didn't win, Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) 2nd Class Luis Garcia said playing against the local soccer team was a great experience.
"Soccer is the number one sport in this country. Their national team recently made the final 16 during the 2014 World Cup," said Garcia.
America is also scheduled to visit Brazil, Chile, Peru and Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the crew will continue enriching partnerships through a variety of interactions with host nations, acting as goodwill ambassadors and participating in community relations projects.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command , U.S. 4th Fleet and U.S. Marine Forces South support U.S. Southern Command's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.
America is currently traveling through the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility on her maiden transit, "America Visits the Americas". America is the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships. As the next generation "big-deck" amphibious assault ship, America is optimized for aviation, capable of supporting current and future aircraft such as the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The ship is scheduled to be ceremoniously commissioned Oct. 11 in San Francisco.