By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alec J. Noe, USS Makin Island Public Affairs
VALPARAISO, Chile (NNS) -- USS Makin Island (LHD 8) Sailors spent two days contributing to the local communities of Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar, Chile during a port visit Aug. 20-24.
Makin Island's Chaplain Department organized the event which totaled more than 15 hours of community service and allowed 120 Sailors to help improve the quality of life for nearly 300 Chilean children.
"Looking at the eyes of those kids, they were so happy to see us," said Lt. Cmdr. Rean Enriquez, Makin Island chaplain, who over oversaw planning of the community relations projects (COMREL). "We gave them some joy, not only because of our donated materials, [or] because of the repairs we did with their school, but more so because of our presence," said Enriquez. "You know they were so happy, they didn't want us to leave."
Makin Island worked with the U.S. embassy, Chilean Navy, Commander U.S. Navy 4th Fleet and 'Project Handclasp' to set up six COMRELS at six schools throughout the two cities. In addition to painting and making electrical repairs at the schools, Sailors also delivered more than six pallets of medical and hygienic supplies and even gave haircuts to children and school staff members.
One group of children showed their appreciation by treating Makin Island Sailors to La Cueca, a traditional Chilean dance. Chief (sel.) Aviation Boatswain's Mate, Handling (AW/SW) Eddy Enriquez volunteered at the event and was glad for the opportunity to participate.
"I decided to come out to meet the people of Chile just to better the human relations between Chile and the United States," said Enriquez. "The most special moment for us today was the soccer game the little Chilean kids asked us to play."
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 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 commissioned on Oct. 24 in San Diego, Calif. For the remainder 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/.