BAHIA MALAGA, Colombia (NNS) – Sailors and Marines from USS New Orleans, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 5, and other embarked units participated in a community relations project in Bahia Malaga, Colombia Aug. 3 and 4, as part of this year’s annual Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station (A-SPS) 2010.
A-SPS is the amphibious portion of Southern Partnership Station, which is a deployment of various specialty platforms to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The community relations project, coordinated by New Orleans’ Chaplain, Lt. David Cullen and his assistant, Religious Programs Specialist 2nd Class Adrian Campbell, took place at a school in a small village called, “Institucion de Education Rosa Zarate Peña.” 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.
In addition to providing labor and materials for the projects, volunteers also passed out stuffed animals and school supplies to the children, and personal hygiene kits and dental products to the adults. These items were donated by Project Handclasp.
The community members were very receptive of the volunteers and prepared for them a favorite local dish, ceviche, made from freshly caught sea fare.
Mr. Dalmiro Garcia has been the community leader of the village for the past two months and expressed his feelings concerning the event.
“It is a very beautiful gesture that you have come here to help us better our village,” said Garcia. “Providing this labor and these resources is very important to us because our village is very isolated and far from any Colombian cities.”
This is not the first time visitors from the U.S. Navy have provided assistance to the village.
“In 2007, USNS Comfort came and did a project like this,” said Garcia. “It was very wonderful. It is important for communities like ours to show support to one another in order to make a better world for our children. Your support means very much to me and my people.”
Hospital Corpsmen from the ship brought some basic medical supplies with them from the ship, and were immediately sought out by the village children to dress irritated bug bites and to treat other minor ailments.
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class, Mary Schlunsen, is attached to the USS New Orleans Health Services Department. She volunteered for the community relations project.
“It’s a very secluded area with only a few buildings, and I feel like whatever work we do will have a big impact on the people living here,” said Schlunsen. “They’re so secluded and it’s such a small community, they were very receptive of the things we brought to them, like the toothbrushes, and very appreciative of the medical care we could offer them. It’s a wonderful and rewarding feeling that we’re able to give to others that don’t have as much.”
Lt.j.g. Erin Smith, the anti-terrorism and force protection officer for PHIBRON 5, used the project as an opportunity to learn about another culture.
“We’re very fortunate to have a lot of resources that we devote to our military and it’s good too for us to be able to devote some of those resources to countries that we visit,” said Smith. “It’s good for our Sailors to see these communities that people in other countries are living in. It gives us some perspective on how we live, and how fortunate we are. I spent time talking to the village leaders and tried to learn about how they earn a living, what jobs they do, what their education system is like, and what their governing system is like. It’s been a great opportunity.”
The ship’s visit to Colombia supports U.S. Southern Command’s goals of ensuring theater security, enhancing regional stability, and strengthening relationships among regional partners. New Orleans has been conducting exercises and multinational exchanges with Mexico, Peru, and Colombia to build on relationships built through previous deployments.
USS New Orleans, along with PHIBRON 5 and other embarked units have already visited Manzanillo, Mexico; Lima, Peru; and are also scheduled to visit Balboa, Panama during the remainder of the three-month deployment.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusns/.