By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Huey D. Younger Jr., USS America (LHA 6) Public Affairs
CALLAO, Peru (NNS) -- More than 30 Sailors and Marines assigned to future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) joined Peruvian sailors in a joint community relations (COMREL) project Sept. 1 at Immaculate Conception School, a municipal preschool, in Callao, Peru, during a scheduled three-day port visit.
The school, attended by more than 180 students from age two to five years, prepares young children for primary education.
The ship's chaplain's office contacted the U.S. Embassy in Peru to find volunteer opportunities during the port visit. The embassy then reached out to the Peruvian Navy who helped coordinate the event held at Immaculate Conception School.
America Sailors and Marines spent the day painting two classrooms a bathroom and the courtyard. They also laid down new sod, so the children would have a grassy area to play. The Peruvian Navy provided medical services and haircuts for the children, and the Peruvian Navy band played throughout the COMREL project for entertainment.
Lt. Patrick McPartland, Navy chaplain aboard America, said the service members choosing to use their liberty time to help others spoke volumes about their character.
"They could've done anything. They could've slept in their 'rack', gone out in town or shopped, but they chose to use their time to help other people instead of using it as a free day," McPartland said.
Although the volunteer services most visibly impacted the local community, it also left a lasting impression on the service members who participated.
"I think just to smile and spend a little bit of time with them and make their school look a little bit prettier will be a big deal to them," said Quartermaster 3rd Class Maria Smith. "Just to make somebody feel better and the fact that they are kids means even more to me."
After the painting was finished, the Sailors and Marines put a personal touch on their project by decorating a section of the wall in the courtyard with painted hand prints.
"We are able to come together and do something nice for everybody," said Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 2nd Class Alicia Maldonado. "It's not just for the America, but for us as people in general."
Throughout the "America Visits the Americas" transit the crew also volunteered at various COMREL projects in Colombia, Brazil and Chile.
"COMRELs are something that they'll remember from the countries," said McPartland. "It might be the highlight of their time in that country; this is interacting directly with the people and making a positive impact and leaving our mark around the world."
America is currently traveling through the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility on her maiden transit, "America visits the Americas." America is the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships. As the next generation "big-deck" amphibious assault ship, America is optimized for aviation, capable of supporting current and future aircraft such as the MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The ship is scheduled to be ceremoniously commissioned Oct. 11 in San Francisco.