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By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Melvin F. Orr, III, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs

-- USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) and embarked 7th Fleet staff Sailors arrived in Vladivostok, Russia May 7 for the flagship's first visit to the city since 2006.

Blue Ridge and embarked 7th Fleet staff Sailors and Marines of Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Company Pacific participated in a parade in the city center celebrating Victory Day, a national holiday celebrating Russia's victory in Europe in World War II. Cities across the country held parades simultaneously in celebration of the holiday.

Sailors visited the Veterans' Center as part of a community outreach project where the 7th Fleet band performed for more than 200 veterans and university students.

"I'm stoked about visiting Russia," said Musician 2nd Class David Drescher, a member of the 7th Fleet band. "This is a great opportunity to see Russia, considering I probably wouldn't visit on my own time. The band hasn't visited Vladivostok since 2006 but I've heard stories that the audiences are fun and engaging."

Blue Ridge Sailors and embarked 7th Fleet Sailors are scheduled to compete with sailors from the Russian Pacific Fleet in volleyball, basketball and soccer at the Makarov Pacific Fleet Naval Institute Russia Federation. Blue Ridge is also slated to host a chess competition between Sailors and visiting Russian children.

Culinary Specialists 2nd Class Kevin Massey and Edgar Tandoy will participate in a cooking competition at Fabrika, a Vladivostok restaurant, during the ship's visit. Massey and Tandoy will pair with a Russian chefs and compete against each other. The two Sailors competed in a ship-wide contest with dozens of challengers and later in front of a 12-judge panel representing different parts of the ship to earn the opportunity to compete on the show.

"Russia offers our ship and crew a unique and important opportunity to build relationships and share cultural exchanges in a place rarely seen by service members," said Blue Ridge commanding officer Capt. Rudy Lupton. "The crew will be out in the local community, side by side with our Russian counterparts, reinforcing the professional reputation our service has around the world."

Blue Ridge and embarked 7th Fleet staff Sailors also visited Regional Children's Cancer Ward, Mayak Children's Rehabilitation Center, and Parus Nadezhdy Children's Rehabilitation Center as part of community outreach projects to donate school supplies and sports equipment as well as play games and sports with the children. Children from the Mayak and Parus Nadezhdy centers will visit Blue Ridge for tours.

Blue Ridge departed its forward-deployed home of Yokosuka, Japan March 2, for a spring deployment to further positive relations with regional partners. The ship has made port visits to Busan, Republic of Korea; Hong Kong; Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia; Jakarta, Indonesia; Pattaya, Thailand; and Fukuoka, Japan. The 19,000 ton ship can carry more than 1,300 crew members and serves as a command and control ship for 7th Fleet operations. Blue Ridge 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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