By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Bobby Northnagle, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs
ZHANJIANG, People's Republic of China (NNS) -- Members of the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) and embarked 7th Fleet staff First Class Petty Officers Association (FCPOA) participated in a community service (COMSERV) event at the Zhanjiang Special Education School, April 22.
The visit marked the first COMSERV by a U.S. Navy ship during a port call to China, as Blue Ridge is currently visiting Zhanjiang to build naval partnerships with the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA(N)) South Sea Fleet to ensure peace and prosperity for the entire region.
"It was awesome that the FCPOA was given the opportunity to represent 7th Fleet and Blue Ridge," said Information Systems Technician 1st Class Jessica Lorenzi, president of the FCPOA. "I hope we set the bar high. We had a good group of volunteers show up with smiles on their faces ready to serve the local community."
The Zhanjiang Special Education School is a nonprofit program for special needs children from ages 3 to 7 who reside in the Zhanjiang Social Welfare Institute. Some of the children were deaf and only spoke in Chinese sign language, which initially proved problematic.
"There was a bit of a language barrier between us, but we were taught 'hello' in Chinese sign language, which the kids got a kick out of," said Religious Programs Specialist Brian Jewell, who organizes COMSERVs for Blue Ridge. "I felt like we really got to experience a pretty big slice of their culture through all of their presentations."
The event began with performances by the U.S. 7th Fleet Band's Woodwind Quintet and The PLA(N) South Sea Fleet Band to entertain the children. Subsequently, the FCPOA received a wood plaque handmade by the school's students, while the FCPOA handed out candy and donated toys such as soccer balls and scooters.
"You could see their faces light up," said Cryptologic Technician (Technical) 1st Class James Barrett. "They were happy to receive things many kids take for granted."
"The kids were so sweet, and I don't believe they're used to seeing Americans, so that may have doubled their excitement," said Legalman 1st Class Rashay Stokes, a volunteer.
The day continued with a series of cultural presentations performed by students and faculty which included historical dances and songs, and concluded with a sampling of local cuisine prepared by the children.
Positive navy-to-navy relationships are based on common interests related to maritime security, counterterrorism, defense trade and security of the global commons. The U.S. 7th Fleet has increased military-to-military exchanges with China, in part to have greater transparency and in part to avoid any unnecessary and inadvertent escalation. As the relationship between the navies of both countries matures, the U.S. 7th Fleet seeks to expand exchanges and engagement with the PLA(N).
"It's important for local communities to see what both our navies can accomplish together," said Barrett.