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By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Cale Hatch, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs
BUSAN, Republic of Korea (NNS) -- USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), embarked 7th Fleet staff, and Marines of Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Pacific (FASTPAC), welcomed the secretary of the Navy (SECNAV)Aug. 29 for a tour of the amphibious command ship.

SECNAV Ray Mabus met with Commander, 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. John Bird, and other senior leadership to better familiarize himself with the area of operations and evaluate the material condition of the 7th Fleet flagship to determine its longevity. "Plans are, right now, to get as much out of Blue Ridge as possible," said Mabus. "We're looking at extending Blue Ridge to around 2019. There is no replacement ship of this type, so we want to keep Blue Ridge as long as possible."

SECNAV took the opportunity to visit the flagship's engine room, mess decks, main deck, laundry room, Damage Control Central, main communications space, maritime operations center, fire room, and a berthing during his tour.

"I've been in a lot of spaces in a short period of time," said Mabus. "I've been to some of your more exotic communication and electronic spaces that are absolutely state of the art. The main thing that has impressed me about the Blue Ridge, and it has impressed me, is that this ship was commissioned in 1970, and it is still in as good a shape today as it was then."

Following the ship tour, Mabus inspected FASTPAC Marines and held an all-hands call with Sailors from Blue Ridge and 7th Fleet staff and Marines from FASTPAC, and answered questions from Sailors and Marines on how to improve the Navy and the future of fleet operations.

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Gregory Richardson, assigned to FASTPAC, admitted that there was a personable quality to the session, which revealed his hometown high school to be SECNAV's football rival.

"I felt like I was talking to a regular gentleman from Mississippi," said Richardson. "It was a very relaxing way to bring up my question."

This was SECNAV's first visit to Blue Ridge since taking office in May. His visit comes as part of a two-week Pacific tour of naval assets in Japan, Korea, Guam, Hawaii, and Saipan.

Blue Ridge is commanded by Capt. Thom W. Burke and serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.
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