USS NEW ORLEANS, At Sea (NNS) -- USS New Orleans (LPD-18), along with Amphibious Squadron 5 (PHIBRON 5), and other embarked units departed Bahia Malaga, Colombia Aug. 17, after completing a port visit in support of Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station (A-SPS) 2010.
Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station (A-SPS) is the amphibious component of Southern Partnership Station, a deployment of various specialty platforms to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in Latin America and the Caribbean. The mission's primary goal is information sharing with navies, coast guards, and civilian services throughout the region.
The port visit kept Sailors busy with subject matter exchanges, a community relations project, and a sporting day event. The "visiting team" from the U.S. competed with Colombian service members in basketball, volleyball, and soccer.
The sports competitions were high-spirited but friendly. Ensign Andres Urbina of the Colombian navy spoke of his impressions of the ship's soccer team.
"It was fun to play against a team from the United States," said Urbina. "I didn't really know what to expect. We thought maybe the U.S. military would be very serious, but once we started playing, we all just enjoyed the game and had fun. Even though we don't all speak the same language, we were able to enjoy each other. I think it's important to participate in these types of events, because it helps us get to know each other better, and that's important when we work together in real operations."
The community relations project, coordinated by USS New Orleans' Chaplain, Lt. David Cullen and Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Adrian Campbell, took place at a school in the small village of La Sierpe. The tasks included digging a three-foot deep, one-foot wide, and 20-yard long ditch for PVC pipe to help with sewage irrigation, as well as building sidewalks, and setting up a water collection and distribution system for the community.
"This was a unique and memorable project," said Cullen. "Many times when we do community relations projects, we paint, we do some minor repairs, and perhaps we clean up trash. All those things are important and go quite far towards creating a more pleasant environment. But the work we have done in La Sierpe will positively change the residents' actual quality of life. Until now, they haven't even had running water in their school bathroom facilities, and this project gives them that. I'm proud of what we've accomplished here, and I am very proud of our sailors and Marines for taking a genuine interest in the well being of the citizens of La Sierpe."
USS New Orleans anchored off the coast of Bahia Malaga navy base, and small boats transported people back and forth to events. Many of the boat rides coincided with the presence of numerous whales.
Yeoman 3rd Class Diana Grams, USS New Orleans Administrative department, saw one of the whales up-close while transiting from the ship in a liberty boat. "It was the first time I've seen a whale so close," said Grams. "They were right next to the boat. I grew up in California and had seen whales before, but not humpbacks, and not so close. Usually people have to pay to go whale watching. For us it was a fringe benefit of the port visit."
During the final two weeks in Colombia, USS New Orleans conducted counter illicit-trafficking operations. The ship and embarked units patrolled off the coast with a Colombian liaison naval officer on board. The ship was prepared to work in concert with Colombian and Panamanian forces in the event any illegal traffickers were found.
Service members from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay originally deployed from San Diego with USS New Orleans on June 10 to enhance the interaction between those partner nations and the U.S. Navy.
By the time the ship reached Bahia Malaga, only the naval officers from Colombia remained aboard. More Colombian service members came aboard when the ship pulled in and had the opportunity to participate in subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs) as the ship regularly got underway during the visit.
Subject matter expert exchange topics covered many aspects of naval operations, including: refueling at sea, boarding team operations, damage control, navigation, and other subject material.
USS New Orleans, along with CPR-5 and other embarked units, are scheduled to visit Balboa, Panama as its final stop of the three-month deployment, before heading back to its home port of San Diego.