CARTAGENA, Colombia -- Marines and sailors on the flight deck of the future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) moved to their positions as an MV-22 Osprey carrying U.S. and Colombian distinguished guests came in for a landing, July 17. Marines and sailors rendered honors as the guests exited the aircraft welcoming with handshakes and smiles as they entered the ship.
U.S. and Colombian diplomats and military officials aboard the ship participated in a press conference, tour of the ship and an evening reception inside the ship’s newly-designed hangar bay.
General John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, addressed the Colombian media while standing with Juan Carlos Pinzon Bueno, Colombian Minister of Defense, and U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker.
“We could’ve gone to any port first, but we chose to come here,” said Gen. Kelly. “I meant that to be a symbol of the tremendous partnership that the United States has with the country of Colombia.”
A tour of the ship’s design, capabilities and assets immediately followed the press conference. Static displays featuring equipment owned by the Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force South sparked much interest during the tour. The tour showcased the significant flexibility, speed and agility combined naval forces provide the U.S. and partners throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
The reception was held in the hangar bay of the ship, which has been expanded for the America-class amphibious assault ships. The inspiring and welcoming words of the Rear Adm. Fernandez Ponds, Expeditionary Strike Group 3 commander, made all those present feel welcome and valued.
“The future USS America will be ceremoniously commissioned in October of 2014, but today she is in Colombia,” said Rear Adm. Ponds. “She is here, where she and her sailors and Marines belong. You see, the vast bodies of ocean that sit between the U.S. and Colombia do not separate us.”
The reception ceremony concluded with Marines and sailors of the ship’s color guard presenting the colors, followed by the playing of the U.S. and Colombian national anthems.
The America-class amphibious assault ship represents the Navy-Marine Corps' emphasis on increasing the aviation capacity of future big-deck amphibious assault ships in order to accommodate the next generation of rotary wing and V/STOL (vertical/short takeoff and landing) aircraft, such as the MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, adding a significant boost to the speed and agility of our maritime forces.
The ship is scheduled to make its next port visit with our partner-nation of Brazil. There, the sailors and Marines of America and SPMAGT-South will continue the good work that was started in Colombia.