SUBIC BAY, Republic of the Philippines - Sailors assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) visited Sergia Soriano Esteban Integrated School of Kalaklan during a scheduled port visit Oct. 14.
While at the school, 63 Essex Sailors played games, sang songs, delivered school supplies and sporting goods, and interacted with more than 1,400 students and 30 teachers.
“It’s an absolute joy and personal honor to represent our Navy and our country in these events,” said Cmdr. James Johnson, Essex’s chaplain and coordinator of the visit. “Every Sailor is doing such a fine job being an ambassador and letting the Filipino people here know how much we care for them and that we want their home to be safe and stable.”
The students and faculty hosted the Sailors with friendly smiles and open hearts. Students danced and sang songs for the Essex crew and participated in a friendly competition on the volleyball court.
“It was a good day to interact with the kids,” said Culinary Specialist 2nd class Winford Sterling. “I love to come on these community service trips because it gives us a chance to give back to the community. Usually, we don’t get to see the younger generation come out and support us, but today was one of those days when the kids were as supportive of us as we were with the kids. I look forward to more of these events in the future here in Subic Bay. It’s like our home away from home.”
Johnson said it was a great experience for all the Sailors involved, and the students made the Sailors not only feel welcome, but happy to be there.
“It’s like a family reunion with family you didn’t know you had,” said Johnson. “There is joy, excitement, and an overall energy that only comes when family gets together. Any Sailor that is a part of this will remember this for the rest of their life. I hope the students and faculty members will remember as fondly as we do.”
Religious Programs Specialist 3rd Class Carissa Dole said the visit made her feel like a bit of a celebrity.
“This is one of the best projects I’ve been on,” said Dole. “The students were great and all of them were very appreciative of us. I’ve been pulled aside and gotten hugs and had kids come up for signatures.”
Essex is in port in Subic Bay to participate in an amphibious landing exercise (PHIBLEX) with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Essex, commanded by Capt. Troy Hart, is part of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group and is on patrol in the Western Pacific.