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140723-N-MD297-173. CARIBBEAN SEA (July 25, 2014) Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, commander of  Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 3, speaks with Margaret Diop, Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Trinidad and Tobago, during a tour of the future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). America is traveling through the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility on her maiden transit.  The ship is scheduled to be commissioned Oct. 11 in San Francisco. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John Scorza/Released)
America Embarks Trinidad and Tobago Distinguished Visitors
By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW/AW) John Scorza, USS America Public Affairs
CARIBBEAN SEA (NNS) -- Eight distinguished visitors and 14 guests from Trinidad and Tobago embarked the future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) at sea for a key leadership engagement July 25.

The visit's main focus was for Trinidad and Tobago representatives, which included the minister of national security, chief of defence staff, representatives from the office of the prime minister, as well as military leadership, to engage in a "roundtable" discussion with America's key leadership, including: Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3, Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, America's Commanding Officer Capt. Robert A. Hall Jr. and Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) South Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. George Hasseltine.

During the roundtable discussion, the group emphasized the importance of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) preparedness, and the capabilities all countries bring to the effort.

"Building relationships establishes trust and delivers efficiencies during a time of crises," said Ponds. "When a crisis occurs, the region and countries affected must be ready to take a whole of government approach, including community leaders, to address the challenges and meet the needs of those impacted. Conversation and dialogue like the one today help to focus our efforts; leverage unique capabilities and identify our strengths to and build a joint, interagency and coalition team that is seamless and interoperable. "

Margaret Diop, charge d'Affairs, U.S. Embassy, Trinidad and Tobago, expressed her gratitude for America's hospitality and for the opportunity to engage in such productive conversation.

"When I think of events like this, with the newest ship in the U.S. fleet, it shows our Trinidanian counterparts that we are partners of an enduring type," said Diop. "For America to take the opportunity to meet with our partners provides proof of that [strong and growing] relationship."

The group toured the ship's medical facilities, hangar bay, vehicle stowage area and flight deck. SPMAGTF South displayed ground support vehicles and equipment, as well as a water purification system, which can be used to provide drinking water during HADR missions. Also on display was an MV-22 Osprey, assigned to the "Argonauts" of Marine Operational and Test Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 22.

"[Being able to visit the ship today] was a magnificent occasion," said Diop. "I was particularly impressed with the level of knowledge of everyone we spoke with."

The visit concluded with a gift exchange between U.S. military leadership and guests from Trinidad and Tobago.
"I believe that our regional partners, neighbors and friends of Trinidad and Tobago greatly enjoyed their time on board and appreciated the importance of our engagement as a significant step in addressing 'key' regional issues of mutual interest in a meaningful way; especially humanitarian assistance and disaster relief," said Ponds. "These engagements are invaluable and no matter how short their duration, we should never miss an opportunity to strengthen relationships and reassure our friends, allies and partners in the Western Hemisphere that we are here for them during their time of need."

America is transiting through the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations en route to its assigned homeport, San Diego. U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet employ maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability and build enduring relationships that foster regional security in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility.

America is the first ship of its class, replacing the Tawara-class of amphibious assault ships. As the next generation "big-deck" amphibious ship, America is optimized for aviation, capable of supporting current and future aircraft such as the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The ship is scheduled to be ceremoniously commissioned Oct. 11 in San Francisco.
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