From USS Iwo Jima Public Affairs

The amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) welcomed 852 new shipmates for a "Friends and Family Day Cruise" off the coast of Mayport, Fla., March 19.

Friends and family members were invited aboard Iwo Jima to experience a day in the life of a Sailor at sea first-hand.

"It's great to get the families out so they can see what their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters do out here every day," said Capt. James Midkiff, Iwo Jima's commanding officer. "For some of these people, it's only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it's so great to be able to show them the ship.  We appreciate all the sacrifices the families make and this is a great opportunity for us to thank them and show them what we all do at the same time."

After observing the ship getting underway from its homeport at Naval Station Mayport, friends and family were treated to a variety of activities, including an MH-60R Sea Hawk flight demonstration, a live-fire .50-caliber machine gun shoot, a firehose handling demonstration and a catered meal provided by the ship's crew. 

Catherine Schultz travelled from Grand Junction, Colo. to join her son, Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuels) 3rd Class Cody Melot. 

"It was far more than what I expected," said Schultz. "We had great food and all of the Sailors are so polite and as respectful as you would hope all of the military would be."

Guests also participated in tours throughout the ship's spaces including the hangar bay, medical, Air Traffic Control Center, mess decks, bridge and flight deck. 

"It was wonderful," said Laura Gullette-Jefferson, mother-in-law of Electronics Technician 1st Class Alfredo Reyes. "This was my first time ever on a ship. My favorite part was the tours of the ship's departments and how they function and just learning about the purpose of everything." 

Guests were treated to entertainment in the hangar bay including a live band, Iwo Jima performers and an NJROTC drill demonstration from Willard High School in Willard, Mo.

"We left on Friday morning to make it here today and saw a lot of cool things," said 18-year-old Layla Howard of Willard High School. "Since I'm on the rifle team, my favorite thing was meeting a female Sailor who gets to test out the bombs and guns."

Iwo Jima recently returned from conducting a series of qualifications and certifications as part of the basic phase of training in preparation for future operations and deployments.