HONG KONG (NNS) -- U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) departed Victoria Harbor, March 24, following four days of cultural exchanges throughout Hong Kong.
Seventh Fleet ships have conducted regular goodwill port visits to Hong Kong since the end of World War II, with Blue Ridge making port calls to Hong Kong since forward deploying to Yokosuka, Japan, in 1979.
The Blue Ridge team consists of more than 900 crew members including, embarked U.S. 7th Fleet staff, the "Golden Falcons" of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 and Marines from Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Pacific.
During the visit, Sailors and Marines took the opportunity away from work and volunteered their time with various local organizations, strengthening the 35-year friendship Blue Ridge has with Hong Kong.
"Community service projects show the local community that we care and that our Sailors are willing to help in any way possible," said Blue Ridge Command Master Chief Mark Tomlinson. "It's a great opportunity for the Sailors. It provides them a chance to give back to the communities they visit and build strong ties with the people they interact with."
2015 marked the third year that Blue Ridge crew members received the chance to interact with residents at Po Leung Kuk, a life education and elderly support center, while others played games with children from underprivileged families with the Loving Kids organization, Lai Huen House.
"This was the biggest turn out of volunteers we've had since the ship first volunteered at Po Leung Kuk, and everyone that participated had a blast," said Religious Programs Specialist 1st Class Brian Jewell, Blue Ridge community service coordinator. "We played games, made Chinese dumplings and learned about their experiences growing up."
"Putting a smile on the children's faces really made my stay in Hong Kong worthwhile," said volunteer Culinary Specialist Seaman Julia Murphy. "We were having so much fun with these kids I forgot it was community service."
Additionally, the Meals in the Homes program gave Sailors and Marines the opportunity to eat dinner at a hosting family's home or a nearby restaurant, allowing participants the opportunity to exchange life stories and learn about the history and culture of Hong Kong, from someone who lives there.
"My hosts were very friendly," said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class David Franklin. "After eating, they gave me a personal tour of the city and showed me things I don't think I would've seen on my own. This was like having a home away from home. They truly made me feel like I was a part of their family."
Blue Ridge concluded the port visit with a celebration on the ships main deck with music provided by the U.S. 7th Fleet's Far East Edition, Woodwind Quintet, and Ceremonial Band.
"These events help us build, foster and maintain friendships and trust with our Pacific Partners in the region," said Chief Damage Controlman Andrae Sutherland, ceremony coordinator. "The ship invites members from the host nation and local community aboard and we have a great time sharing together."