By Adam K. Thomas
USS Blue Ridge Public Affairs, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class
USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), along with embarked 7th Fleet staff members, made their first port visit to Otaru, Japan in nearly five years Feb 8.
During the port call, sailors took the opportunity to reinforce the continued U.S.-Japan alliance by participating in serval community outreach (COMREL) programs.
“It’s important for us to attend these COMREL events,” Navy Counselor 1st Class Chadd Thomas said. “In order to show members of the local community that we appreciate the chance to be here and that we stand beside them and care about the well-being, security and safety of Japan.”
Among those participating was Yeoman 3rd Class Thomas Lattanzio, from Nyack, Rockland County.
The COMREL events included a basketball game between Blue Ridge Sailors and students from Otaru Meiho High School, with Blue Ridge celebrating a tough 50-48 victory. However, the game’s final score took a backseat to the importance of using a shared love of basketball to communicate across cultures, according to Yeoman 2nd Class Jordan Ogburn.
“It’s great being able to come here and enjoy a friendly game with the local students,” said Ogburn. “Even though we may be from different countries, it’s fantastic that people from all over the world can come together and enjoy a common interest in the game of basketball.”
The Blue Ridge/7th Fleet team also volunteered at the Snow Light Path Festival by chipping in to build snow lanterns, clear recently fallen snow and construct ice sculptures.
“It’s good for members of the local community to see American Sailors helping out and taking part in traditions like the Light Path Festival,” Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class John Marcincak said. “I really enjoyed building lanterns with the young children. Events like this just show that despite our differences, we’re building a bright future together.”
In all, 28 sailors volunteered for the two separate events with a total 92 hours of community service being completed.
“Sailors participate in these COMRELs in order to strengthen the bond between the citizens of Indo-Asia Pacific nations and the United States,” Religious Programs Specialist Chief Ana Douglas said. “The events not only show the U.S. Navy’s ability to make a difference in communities around the world, but also demonstrates that these young Sailors really care about making a difference internationally.”
Blue Ridge recently completed a nearly 2-year extended dry-dock selected restricted availability period and numerous certifications, to ensure she remains ready to promote U.S. and allied interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Blue Ridge is commanded by Capt. Eric Anduze and serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious force.