By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jared Harral, USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs
YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) and embarked 7th Fleet staff returned to Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka after concluding a three-month patrol Sept. 2.
During the summer patrol, Blue Ridge visited five ports in four different countries, strengthening relationships within the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and boosting theater security cooperation.
"The staff and crew did a tremendous job during this patrol," said Capt. Kyle P. Higgins, commanding officer of Blue Ridge. "It's amazing what they were able to accomplish, balancing a busy schedule of work, certifications and exercises."
Blue Ridge played an important role in the joint exercises Talisman Sabre (TS) and Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG), serving as the joint task force command center for all military branches during TS and the command center for all naval forces during UFG.
"Through these exercises, the participating forces work to improve their inter-operational proficiencies through military-to-military integration," said Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Robert Thomas. "Working with our partner nations, we are able to ensure our ability to work together, strengthening relationships and fostering peace and stability throughout the 7th Fleet area of operations."
During the port visits, nearly 300 of the ship's crew and embarked staff also took opportunities to participate in 15 community service events at locations such as children's hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, and even the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia.
"The goal of the community service events is to build upon established relationships with our host countries," said Religious Programs Specialist 1st Class Brian Jewell. "They provide an amazing opportunity to experience different cultures and to interact with the local community at each port we visit."
The ship also underwent some major inspections, including the Medical Readiness Inspection, Fleet Support Operations - Medical and TYCOM Material Inspection.
"Every department had to come together in order to complete these inspections," said Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Omar Saeed, the ship's senior medical officer. "The crew worked as a team to get the job done, and the result was some of the highest scores we have ever received."
During the patrol, the ship made stops in Guam, Australia, Japan and South Korea, covering more than 12,000 nautical miles, and more than 900 hours during its 77-day deployment.
"We had a great patrol and visited some amazing countries," said Electronics Technician 2nd Class Page Gibson. "However, I can't wait to see my family and spend some much needed quality time with them."
Blue Ridge will now enter an extended selected restricted availability (SRA) period, allowing the crew and ship repair facility workers to conduct vital maintenance on the ship, increasing its lifespan.
"Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of work ahead for the crew during SRA," said Higgins. "However, with the successful completion of SRA, the crew has an exciting 2016 schedule to look forward to."
Blue Ridge has been forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, for nearly 36 years. As the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, Blue Ridge is committed to strengthening and fostering relationships within the Indo-Asia Pacific region.