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Story Number: NNS090611-07 

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Tiffani Paredes, Pre-Commissioning Unit Makin Island Public Affairs

GAUTIER, Miss. (NNS)
-- Sailors from Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Makin Island (LHD 8) volunteered at College Park Elementary in Gautier, Miss. - the first community relations event since the ship was delivered to the fleet.

Sailors arrived at the school after Stan Cantrell, a retired senior chief and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Gulf Coast employee who worked closely with the command as an information systems technician before its delivery, requested help.

Sailors assembled a $35,000 calisthenics playground in one day. The playground is the newest of three playgrounds and is part of College Park's "Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds" project, a five-year plan dedicated to improving students' physical and social well-being.

The College Park's Parent Teacher Organization had already added other improvements such as a walking track and repairs to the older play areas. But when it came time to plan for construction of the calisthenics station, the question of manpower was raised. Parents and teachers were obvious options, but many of them had conflicting schedules. At least 25-30 people were needed to put up a border frame, erect the climbing equipment and line it all with mulch for the station to be completed in a timely manner. However, finding a group who could handle such heavy duty tasks would be a challenge - until Cantrell suggested the Navy might lend a hand.

Cantrell wasted no time in contacting Makin Island's chaplain department, who finalized the arrangements. Cantrell explained that because "Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds" would benefit his 8-year-old grandson in particular, he was pleased with the command's cooperation.

"[My grandson] even wants to come here on the weekends," said Cantrell during a quick break from construction. "He just loves the new playground equipment. Even in the second grade, the school is starting his interest in fitness."

After a swift four hours of construction, the calisthenics station was ready for a test drive, giving Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 1st Class (AW/SW) William Tanner and the rest of the volunteers a chance to interact with College Park's second graders.

"It reminds me of my kids at Christmas," said Tanner after observing the students' ecstatic reaction to new territory. "[The playground] is just something to climb on, but they love it. Doing this feels good."

Cantrell said he is pleased the Navy's principles of honor and service live on in today's generation of Sailors. "The Navy can do and, most importantly, they want to," said Cantrell. "They want to help, and it makes me proud to be associated with them."

"Whatever command I've been at, we're always trying to improve, helping out everybody and gaining support," said Tanner. "I'd rather get out there, do the physical work and help somebody any day."

The Makin Island crew is now working and living aboard ship, while preparing for sail-away, when they will deploy around South America to her future homeport of San Diego. Makin Island is scheduled to be commissioned Oct. 24.

For more news from Pre-Commissioning Unit Makin Island (LHD 8), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd8/.

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