USS MAKIN ISLAND, At Sea - The amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) is underway following a four-day port visit to Sepangar, Malaysia, May 18-21.
The port visit served not only as a break for the crew after more than four months of conducting maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, but also as part of the U.S. Navy's ongoing commitment to theater security cooperation and partnership with allied navies to promote peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific Region.
More than 2,000 Makin Island Sailors and Marines from the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit experienced the Malaysian culture, took part in a community service project and participated in numerous Morale, Welfare and Recreation tours.
"Our port visit to Malaysia was both rewarding and relaxing," said Capt. Cedric Pringle, Makin Island's commanding officer. "Our rewards were tied to the numerous engagement opportunities with one of our strongest partners in the Southeast Asia region."
Pringle said tours of Makin Island for more than 100 Malaysian officers and enlisted personnel were reciprocated with Makin Island officers touring the Malaysian submarine Scorpene SS. A golf tournament and a soccer match were also engagement highlights of the visit.
"Additionally, relaxation for more than 2,000 Sailors and Marines was available through a wide variety of activities available in Kota Kinabalu which ranged from diving to shopping to mountain climbing," said Pringle. "Overall, this was one of our most fulfilling port visits to date."
On a broader note, Pringle also acknowledged the value of Makin Island's visit to U.S. Pacific Command theater-level operations.
"Our engagement with the Royal Malaysian Navy increases opportunities for other large U.S. ships to visit Kota Kinnabalu. The city is perfectly located for westbound or eastbound deployers to take advantage of additional training opportunities and well-deserved liberty," said Pringle. "We are proud to work with the Royal Malaysian Navy, and I hope they enjoyed visiting our ship as much as we enjoyed visiting their country."
During the port visit, 40 Sailors and Marines also took part in a community service project at Bukit Harapan Therapeutic Community children's home in Kota Kinabalu, May 19.
"I went in order to provide manpower and help to those in need, but walked away feeling like I was the one who truly benefited," said Cmdr. Dwight Horn, Makin Island's command chaplain who organized the project. "I was so moved to be at this ministry that reaches out to those who otherwise would not have a home and who would be left on the streets."
Horn said there were two types of work done during the project. The first was interaction with the children that consisted of games, drawing, songs. The second part was clearing a drainage ditch of sediment that had built up from erosion.
"I was profoundly humbled when I tried to provide compassion to the leaders of this organization, assuming that they would have numerous needs and difficult challenges, only to be told that they were entirely content in their faith," added Horn. "Most Americans would have complained endlessly at the challenges and conditions but these people were content to love, unbelievable. I will forever be moved."
Horn said that the organization was extremely thankful for the arduous work performed by the group of Sailor and Marine volunteers.
"To see the Marines and Sailors loving the children and making their lives better in those moments was electric," said Horn. "To see the incredible, difficult work that was done, being a part of it first hand, and then to see the completion of that project was extremely gratifying."
Sailors and Marines who participated in the project said they also found it to be rewarding.
"The highlight of the event for me was seeing a very young girl's interaction with a Marine," said Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Matthew G. Alexander, a Makin Island Sailor who participated in the community service project. "She had taken his cover and his blouse and put it on and continued to dance and sing with the Marine. Seeing the happiness in the young child was a great reward."
Alexander said his role in the project was helping to clear mud, weeds and other debris from a drainage ditch on the property to help prevent flooding during the rainy season.
"I am constantly looking for opportunities to help those that are less fortunate because it was not too long ago where I was in a similar position," said Alexander. "I just feel like I need to give back to the world."
Makin Island is the first U.S. Navy ship to deploy using a hybrid-electric propulsion system. By using this unique propulsion system, the Navy expects, over the course of the ship's lifecycle, to see fuel savings of more than $250 million, proving the Navy's commitment to energy awareness and conservation.
This initiative is one of many throughout the Navy and Marine Corps that will enable the Department of the Navy to achieve the Secretary of the Navy's energy goals to improve our energy security and efficiency afloat and ashore, increase our energy independence and help lead the nation toward a clean energy economy.
Makin Island is the flagship of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group that is currently deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
The 7th Fleet area of operations includes more than 52 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian oceans, stretching from the international date line to the east coast of Africa, and from the Kuril Islands in the north to the Antarctic in the south.