By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Christopher D. Fairbanks, USS Makin Island Public Affairs
VALPARAISO, Chile (NNS) -- Prior to and during USS Makin Island's (LHD 8) recent port visit in Valparaiso, Chile, a Sailor was able to reunite with family members he had not seen in more than a decade.
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fueling) 2nd Class (AW/SW) Manuel Galleguillos, V-4 Divisional Yeoman, was born in the town of Quilpue, Chile, and was raised there until he was six, before moving to Los Angeles.
More than 16 years later, while stationed aboard Makin
Island, Galleguillos came across a rare opportunity to reunite, and even meet some members of his family.
While transiting through the Strait of Magellan, the ship stopped to anchor off the coast of Punta Arenas, Chile for local Chilean sailors to come aboard for a luncheon and fellowship with U.S. Navy Sailors.
Galleguillos was told through an email from his mother that his first cousin was serving in the Chilean Navy and was currently stationed in the small town of Punta Arenas.
"We got in touch with the hospital where his cousin worked," said Ensign Lauryn Dempsey, Makin Island's Public Affairs Officer. "He never met his cousin before. So I definitely wanted to do what I could to make sure it happened."
The ship worked with the Punta Arenas Naval Base to see if the Chilean cousins could be given the chance to meet each other under such unique circumstances.
"So, I went to chow, and right before I sat down, they snatched me up and said, 'You're cousin's here!'" said Galleguillos. "Then I went to the hangar bay, and that's when I saw him. I recognized him right away."
"When they met, they knew each other right away," said Dempsey. "They had never seen each other in their entire lives before, but they said each of them looked like their fathers. I didn't even have to introduce them."
After Galleguillos and his cousin met for the first time, they exchanged hugs and conversation before the ship departed Punta Arenas to continue her transit through the strait and onto the next port call in Valparaiso, Chile.
During the transit to Valparaiso, Galleguillos was cleared and approved to take leave for the four days the ship would sit pierside near the city. While in port, he and his father, who flew in from Los Angeles, spent the time visiting as many family members as possible in the few days he had in his home country.
"It kind of shocked me when it all happened," said Galleguillos. "We were at a point where I was with my Dad and my Aunt, and we would just kind of go to one house, be there for an hour and then we'd go to another house, and be there for an hour. Luckily they did all the planning."
Galleguillos also visited places he remembered seeing as a child. He paid a visit to his hometown of Quilpue and a Chilean Navy warship named Esmeralda, where his father served on. He even got to treat his family members to a tour of Makin Island before the ship got underway to head for its final port visit.
"I just can't describe it," Galleguillos said. "It's something you don't expect to get out of being on a deployment or underway in the Navy. You figure 'I'm going to have to spend big money to do something like this.' It's by far the best port visit I've ever had."
Galleguillos said he plans to return to Chile and maintain permanent communication with his family there.
Makin Island's crew of nearly 1,100 Sailors and Marines departed Pascagoula, Miss., July 10. The ship is currently circumnavigating South America to its future homeport of San Diego. During the trip the ship and crew are 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 commissioned on October 24, 2009 in San Diego. For the rest of the year, the crew will undergo constant shipboard training in preparation for final contractor trials.
For more news from USS Makin Island (LHD 8), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd8/.