FUTURE USS AMERICA, At Sea (NNS) -- The sounds of MV-22 Osprey engines roared in the background as the future amphibious assault ship future USS America (LHA 6) welcomed distinguished visitors from El Salvador aboard for a key leader engagement (KLE) Sept. 8.
The KLE consisted of a tour of the ship, a formal lunch with the ship's command and a leadership conference.
After coming aboard, guests, including U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte, Vice-President of El Salvador Oscar Ortiz, along with key Salvadoran military leaders, were escorted to a meet-and-greet with the ships leadership and crew.
"We only have a little time together," said Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3. "We are going to make valuable use of that time. We are going to show you the ship's capabilities, but what will impress you most are our Sailors and our Marines."
Ambassador Aponte expressed her gratitude and respect for the Marines and Sailors aboard, setting the tone for the rest of the visit.
"We are really happy to be here," said Ambassador Aponte. "This really is the United States at its finest, and I thank you for giving us the opportunity."
A tour was provided for the guests following the welcoming. The tour was made up of multiple static displays showcasing the assets and capabilities that the Marines of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force South bring to the ship. The displays were manned by Marines who spoke about their gear and occupations.
"Today I explained infantry organic weapons systems," said LCpl. Matthew Petty, an assistant gunner with SPMAGTF-South, and a native of Leon, Iowa. "This was one of my favorites because of the vice president and higher-ups. It was very enlightening to be able to explain what we do and what we use."
The time aboard the ship was concluded with a leadership conference held in the ship's wardroom. The conference emphasized the importance of partnership between the U.S and El Salvador, specifically addressing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief concerns in the region.
"These missions are very difficult," Ponds said. "It takes a whole government as well as a community to make it work. It is about unity of effort. It is about relationships. It is about trust and transparency, and this is where it starts."
Captain Robert Hall Jr., commanding officer of America, spoke about the capabilities that the ship brings to our Salvadoran partners. Hall spoke about America's design as well as other ships that will accompany her in future missions.
"Our motto is 'prepared in war and in peace,'" said Hall. "This ship is very capable during war time, but it is also very capable during peace time in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions."
In addition to the ship's mechanical capabilities, the Marines and Sailors aboard play a major role in addressing HA/DR missions.
"The Navy and Marine Corps team off the coast comes with a great capability," said Lt. Col. Terence Connelly, executive officer of SPMAGTF-South. "Like the ship, we are prepared in peace and war. The primary operations that we support are those first-actions that help to relieve human suffering and bring humanity back to those who are affected."
The conference ended with words of gratitude and the exchanging of gifts between the two groups. The short visit from the distinguished guests was a reflection of the admiration that our have nations for each other.
"There are days that fill ones heart with pride," said Ambassador Aponte. "This is one of those days for me. I have pride in my people (The United States) extending a hand to Salvadorans telling them 'We are here!'"
America is now bound for her home port in San Diego. After five port visits, the ship possesses lasting relationships and memories from our partners in the region. The SPMAGTF is embarked aboard America in support of her maiden transit, "America Visits the Americas." The transit has demonstrated the unparalleled capabilities that the Navy-Marine Corps team provides our nation and partners.