PATTAYA, Thailand - Sailors assigned to U.S. 7th Fleet and USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) got a chance to give back to the Pattaya community by participating in community relations (COMREL) events during their port visit here, Feb. 24-25.
Blue Ridge and embarked 7th Fleet Staff arrived in Laem Chabang, Thailand Feb. 23 for a scheduled port visit as part of their continuing mission of fostering relationships with partners and allies throughout the Pacific.
Approximately 40 Sailors spent time with local children through COMREL events scheduled at The Pattaya Orphanage and Father Ray Foundation. The Pattaya Orphanage was formally established in September 1974 and serves as a home for orphaned children from all over the city. Organized by local citizens, these COMRELs allowed Sailors a chance to volunteer and play with the children and give back something to a city that has long supported U.S. Navy.
“It’s important because [Sailors] inspire these kids,” said Siriphen Limsirikul, the Orphanage’s assistant director. “Many of them want to be in the military or do something greater with their lives. They go to school and they look up to them.”
Sailors like Intelligence Specialist 2nd Class Michael Matthews, from Salida, Colorado, said opportunities to take part in COMRELS like these are what port visits are all about.
“Doing this kind of thing is really important because it allows us as Sailors to interact and help the people and children of the countries we visit,” said Matthews. “Their smiles make it all worth it.”
Blue Ridge Sailors also got the chance to volunteer at the Father Ray Foundation, which was established in the mid 1970’s by Father Raymound Brennan, a priest from Chicago. Sailors played with children who are special-needs or orphaned and full-time residents at the foundation.
“The mission is to help those in need, those lost and forgotten in society” said Emma McNamara, a Peterborough Ontario, Canada native and the member of an international fundraiser for the foundation. “We give them care and education so they can later enter the world as equals.”
Sailors and residents spent the morning together playing games such as football and Petanque, a form of lawn bowling, and giving them care and attention. Blue Ridge volunteer Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class John Marcincak, from San Diego, said he was honored to be able to make a difference in the residents’ lives despite it being only a few hours.
“You should always try to make an impact in every place you visit,” said Marcincak. “Seeing the looks on the kids’ faces makes you realize you made their day.”
McNamara said the foundation always loves having volunteers because it gives the children hope of who they can become when they are older.
“It’s always good for our kids to interact with people from all walks of life,” said McNamara. “It doesn’t matter what country you come from, there is always a commonality. When you guys come here, the kids always have a good time. They get to see that even though some people don’t know them, they still care.”