VALPARAÍSO, Chile --
Marines and Sailors aboard the future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) manned the rails as the ship prepared to dock for a port visit in Valparaíso, Chile, Aug. 24.
During the port visit, America and Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force South assisted in the conclusion of the Partnership of America exercise, hosted distinguished visitors aboard the ship and participated in a wreath laying ceremony ashore.
Partnership of the Americas is an annual multi-lateral military exercise focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This year’s exercise was based on a simulated HA/DR scenario in Chile. America embarked four CH46E Sea Knight helicopters and 60 U.S. Marines and Sailors from the exercise.
“Our primary job was showcasing the amphibious operations capability of the U.S. Navy, particularly in regards to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” said Maj. Brian Santucci, operations officer for Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, and a native of Sierra Vista, Ariz. “Basically doing ship to shore movement of personnel and cargo to assist in some kind of national disaster.”
POA concluded aboard America during an after action review hosted by the Vice Adm. Arturo Undurraga Díaz, commandant of Chilean naval aviation. Leaders of the participating nations were given the opportunity to provide input on the execution of the exercise.
America and U.S. Ambassador to Chile Michael Hammer hosted a formal reception for distinguished visitors and guests aboard the ship. The reception was held in the hangar bay which has been expanded for the America-class amphibious assault ship. The night symbolized the valued partnership between our nation and Chile.
“It is truly an honor to share this night with you our special guests beneath the stars and the backdrop views of Valparaíso, Chile,” said Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3. “I can think of no better place that I would rather be, than here with partners, neighbors, friends and family.”
Tours of the ship were conducted daily for visitors and guests. The tours consisted of multiple static displays hosted by Marines with SPMAGTF-South. The displays showcased the capabilities the Marines bring to the ship.
“It was a very humbling experience to be able to show another country what our military is capable of,” said Cpl. Matthew Cessna, an airborne and air delivery specialist with SPMAGTF-South. “I liked being part of the tours because I got the chance to help further develop our relationship with other countries.”
Among the static displays were light armored vehicles, several infantry weapons systems, explosive ordnance disposal equipment and the MV-22 Osprey.
Leaders from America and SPMAGTF-South joined Chilean military in a wreath laying ceremony ashore at the Heroes of Iquique Monument. A statue of Chilean Navy CAPT Arturo Prat sits at the top of the monument honoring those who fought and gave their lives in the Battle of Iquique, 1879.
“It was quite an experience to be a part of that ceremony,” said Sergeant Maj. Wesley Schaffer, the sergeant major of SPMAGTF-South. “It was nice to experience their military culture because we all know what it is to lose someone. It was good to know that they honor their heroes.”
The ship is scheduled to make its final port visit in Peru. There, the Marines will conduct a theater security cooperation event with the Peruvian military ashore, while key leader engagements with Peruvian diplomats and military officials are conducted aboard the ship.
The Marines of SPMAGTF-South are embarked aboard USS America in support of her maiden transit, “America Visits the Americas.” A SPMAGTF is a balanced air, ground and logistics force that can be tailored to accomplish missions across a wide range of crises. Through partner-nation activities, key leader engagements and security cooperation activities, the Marines and Sailors of SPMAGTF-South demonstrate the flexibility, utility and unparalleled expeditionary capability the Navy-Marine Corps team provides our nation and partners.