By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin L. Webb, USS Makin Island (LHD 8) Public Affairs
LIMA, Peru (NNS) -- Crew members of USS Makin Island (LHD 8) experienced the culture and history of Lima, Peru during a port visit Aug. 29-Sep.1.
Lima was Makin Island's third and final port call during her maiden voyage from the building yard in Pascagoula, Miss., to her new homeport in San Diego.
The stop afforded Sailors the chance to participate in community relations projects, take tours of the city of Lima and the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu, and host a reception for Peruvian military and civilian authorities.
Storekeeper 1st Class (SW) Yuly Mejia, a native of Callao, Peru, returned to her home country for the first time since 2006. During the port call, she took leave to spend time with her parents and other family members. The whole family was thrilled to see a family member serving on board the Navy's newest amphibious assault ship.
"Words can't express what I feel," said Mejia. "I feel very proud that I was able to come and represent myself not only as a Peruvian but also as a U.S. citizen and a member of the Navy. My parents got to see their only daughter serving in the Navy, they were so emotional."
During the ship's visit in Lima, more than 300 Peruvian civilians and military personnel visited the ship to take tours and meet Sailors.
"We are studying the Navy and special surface warfare," said Ensign (2nd Year) Roberto Villalobos of the Peruvian Navy. "We try to visit every ship that comes here. It's very interesting."
In addition to regular liberty, more than 100 crew members volunteered to participate in community relations projects, which included cleaning a local beach and making improvements to a nearby school.
"I think this was a great way for [the Peruvians] to see that we aren't here just to stimulate their economy by spending our money out in town," said Air Traffic Controller 2nd Class Kenneth Placencia. "I think we made a lasting impression, and sometimes giving to someone else or just paying attention to them can make their day."
Capt. Robert Kopas, Makin Island's commanding officer, echoed everyone's sentiments.
"Our mission here in Lima was to serve as a concrete example of the U.S. and 4th Fleet's continuing commitment to work with our partner nations in South America," said Kopas. "The crew performed brilliantly, and I think our visit went a long way toward increasing understanding and cooperation between the nations of Peru and the United States."
Makin Island's crew of nearly 1,100 Sailors and Marines departed Pascagoula July 10. The ship is currently circumnavigating South America to her future homeport of San Diego. During the trip the ship and crew are also supporting U.S. Southern Command objectives for enhanced maritime security and sharing methods and training that will build on U.S. and partner nations' interoperability and strong relations.
Makin Island is the Navy's last Wasp-Class Amphibious to be built and is scheduled to be formally commissioned on October 24, 2009 in San Diego. Over the course of the next six months, Makin Island will be undergoing new construction shakedown, during which the crew will conduct training, systems calibration, tests and trials in San Diego and the Southern California Operating areas.
For more news from USS Makin Island (LHD 8), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd8/.