Nearly 300 Sailors and Marines assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit lent a helping hand to local schools Nov. 27 - 29 during a scheduled port visit to Sihanoukville, Kingdom of Cambodia.
Sailors and Marines visited the Hun Sen Krong Primary School, Hun Sen Mittapheap Primary School and Chamka Kaosu Primary School to help clean and paint the schoolhouses, as well as teach English, play games and interact with the students.
"Projects like these are so important because they produce long lasting benefits," said Capt. Brian T. Donegan, USS Essex commanding officer. "By enriching the lives of children and promoting their education we can provide a contribution to the people of Cambodia that literally lasts a generation."
The smiling faces and visible happiness of the children also provides the Sailors and Marines participating in these exchanges an experience they will remember forever.
“The children are such a joy”, said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Rosemary Colbert. “I had a blast teaching and playing with the children.”
Sailors, Marines and students played athletic games such as soccer, duck-duck goose, hop scotch, relay races and marbles throughout the day. “The children are pretty fast runners and I had a hard time keeping up with them,” said Rosemary.
It wasn’t all play and no work. The Sailors and Marines spent much of their time painting and improving the schools' appearance.
“I like being over here. It feels good to help out the school,” said Marine Corps Cpl. Brandon Turner. “I feel that this was really a rewarding experience and I am glad that I was able to participate.”
The visit also gave students an opportunity to interact with Americans and experience a foreign culture for themselves. Both children and Sailors were able to experience another culture through conversation and interaction.
“I had the best time in my life playing with the kids and teaching. They are really smart,” said Yeoman Seaman Saquan Sutton. “It was a whole new experience for me that makes you appreciate where you are from.”
Essex’s Command Chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Sweeney was pleased the Sailors and Marine’s visit brought happiness to the children.
“Participating in these community relations activities allows our service members the opportunity to meet people in the local community and interact in activities like sports or something like painting at a local school,” said Sweeney.
Essex’s visit to Cambodia marks the first time an amphibious assault ship has visited the country and marks the second U.S. Navy ship visit in 2007. USS Gary’s (FFG 51) visit in April was the first U.S. ship to visit the Kingdom of Cambodia in more than 30 years.
Essex is currently conducting its semi-seasonal fall patrol throughout East and Southeast Asia.
Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for Commander, Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.