PHUKET, Thailand - The amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), along with embarked Marines assigned to the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (11th MEU), arrived in Phuket, Thailand May 14, for a scheduled port visit.
The ships anchored off the coast of Phuket for what will be each crew's first port visit since departing the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility May 8.
New Orleans and Pearl Harbor spent more than four months conducting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in 5th Fleet.
USS Pearl Harbor Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Homer Denius, said the visit is a welcomed break for the Sailors and Marines aboard.
"It's a chance for our Sailors and Marines to experience the incredible culture of Thailand, in the spirit of goodwill and friendship," said Denius.
This will be Denius's first visit to Phuket, although he has visited Pattaya before.
"I look forward to expanding my experience of Thailand in Phuket," he said. "I know our Sailors and Marines are going to enjoy participating in community service projects, taking tours, shopping in the markets and meeting the friendly people."
Denius will also visit with members of Thailand's Navy and other local officials during the visit.
"Thailand is the United States' oldest friend in Asia and it's important that we continue to foster this close relationship," he said. "These close ties allow us to understand both of our country's interests and find more common ground to expand our friendship."
Commanding Officer of Pearl Harbor's embarked Combat Logistics Battalion 11, Lt. Col. Andrew Bergen echoed the thoughts of Denius.
"We are excited to learn about the culture and enjoy Thailand, a beautiful land with which the United States has a friendship dating to early 1800s," said Bergen. "We hope to make new friends and strengthen the bonds we have through community relations projects and when enjoying some time off in this wonderful country."
Community service activities will include painting at the Soi Dog Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that helps homeless, neglected and abused dogs and cats, as well as doing minor facility repair and painting at the Home & Life Orphanage and a local international school.
"We have some great opportunities to be good ambassadors, I think it's really important to see out side of the place we're going to visit," said Lt. Daniel Spies, a Navy chaplain assigned to the 11th MEU and embarked aboard New Orleans. "It'll take us off the beaten path of all the tourist trails and give us an opportunity to what some of these organizations are doing for the local community."
In addition to the community service projects, Sailors and Marines will experience Thai culture through tours offered by the ship's morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) department.
MWR tours will feature a variety of options showcasing the country's culture and landscape. Tours included area trip to Phuket's Wat Chalong monestary, a day long big fishing adventure in Chalong bay and an elephant ride through the rain forest.
"Thailand is one of my favorite ports to visit, I've been here five times," said Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Jomel Jones, a New Orleans Sailor. "Every time I go, I always have a great time. It's a beautiful country with great beaches, friendly people and outstanding food."
New Orleans and Pearl Harbor, along with the embarked 11th MEU are part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, which is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations