USS AMERICA, At Sea (NNS) -- Forty high-ranking civilian and military officials from the South American nation of Uruguay visited the future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) Aug. 13 to participate in a key leadership engagement.
Distinguished visitors included U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay, Julissa Reynoso; Deputy Chief of Mission, Brad Freden; members of the Uruguay House of Representatives and Senate Defense Committee; and three Uruguay military flag officers.
Once aboard, the guests were welcomed by Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 3, and America leadership.
"Our journey around South America has been about partnerships and engagements with our friends and our neighbors," said Ponds. "The United States and Uruguay have a long and meaningful relationship based on the shared values of fairness, respect, dignity and compassion; realized through a fair and transparent democratic process. Today reinforces the mutual commitment and cooperation we share as navies and nations in ensuring the security of our maritime commons; advancing peace keeping operations; addressing transnational threats and; carrying-out humanitarian relief and disaster relief missions."
America Sailors and embarked Marines from Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) South provided the distinguished visitors with a tour of the ship's vehicle stowage area, hangar bay, medical spaces and flight deck. During the tour, Marines showcased their humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) capabilities available on board, including their transportable lightweight water purification system.
"As a Navy and Marine Corps team, we must all be ready for unexpected humanitarian missions," said Lt. Col. George D. Hasseltine, commanding officer, SPMAGTF South. "Marines are able to bring incredible capability from the sea to on ground locations expeditiously. Just like our Uruguayan partners, humanitarian efforts are a priority for us, and we train and prepare for these types of missions daily."
Guests had an opportunity to walk through the ship's medical spaces as well and observe America's diverse medical and dental services, including two operating rooms, an intensive care unit, 23-bed ward and bed-surge capabilities.
"We have a highly-trained team of physicians and hospital corpsmen," said Lt. Cmdr. Jian Mei, America's senior medical officer. "America brings with it a robust medical capability. We can perform surgical procedures on board, and provide intensive care and post-surgical monitoring. Our digital x-ray allows us to take an x-ray and consult with doctors thousands of miles away. In the case of humanitarian missions, this ability is essential to ensure patients receive the best treatment available."
Following the tour, guests and shipboard leadership had lunch in the ship's wardroom, and participated in a presentation highlighting America's characteristics, capabilities and ability to support HADR efforts.
"America is an amphibious platform built for aviation-centric missions," said Capt. Robert A. Hall, Jr., America's commanding officer. "The additional space for aircraft, aviation maintenance and storage capacity built into this ship would enable us to remain on station longer to sustain Marine Corps operations ashore. Through flexible lift and air delivery, the Navy and Marines Corps team can provide quick relief along the coast or deeper inland in a humanitarian or disaster relief situation. America can also perform as a command and control center to help coordinate and ensure a unity of effort among partners. A focus area during our transit around South America is to help strengthen existing partnerships and to share lessons learned and experiences on how to best prepare and work together during these types of unforeseen events."
Prior to the guests' departure, shipboard leadership and distinguished visitors exchanged gifts as a sign of respect, cooperation and trust. U.S. Ambassador Reynoso expressed her gratitude for America's warm welcome and hospitality, especially with the ship continuing on her course south.
"I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to share this day with you," said Reynoso. "On behalf of the Embassy and our Uruguayan friends, I cannot express just how grateful we all are. I have family and friends in the U.S. military, so I truly understand the sacrifices these Sailors and Marines aboard make for their country. Events like today truly help build lasting relationships."
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 ship, America is optimized for aviation, capable of supporting current and future aircraft such as the MV-22 Osprey and the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The ship is scheduled to be ceremoniously commissioned Oct. 11 in San Francisco.