The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and components of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) departed Malaga, Spain, July 24, following a scheduled port visit.

Nearly 2,500 embarked Sailors and Marines spent three days visiting the Mediterranean coastal city to deepen strategic and personal ties with their Spanish allies.

“The overall response I’ve gotten from speaking to the crew is that Malaga was above and beyond their expectations,” said Capt. Joseph O’Brien, Iwo Jima’s commanding officer. “I want to thank our Spanish hosts and the people of Malaga for their hospitality during our visit. It is just another great example of our strong relationship that we will continue for years to come.”

U.S. Marine Col. Farrell J. Sullivan, commanding officer of the 26th MEU, said Malaga’s generosity made for a memorable port call.

“We had high expectations before pulling into Malaga and our visit easily exceeded those expectations in every way. The local authorities and businesses welcomed us with open arms. The people were charming and the food was incredible,” said Sullivan. “I believe the Marines and Sailors thoroughly enjoyed their stay and truly found this Mediterranean gem a place for much needed rest, relaxation, and reset before we move on to the next stage of our deployment. Since departing the refrain aboard Iwo Jima is that many plan to return to Malaga. We miss it already.”

This was Iwo Jima’s third visit to a U.S. 6th Fleet port as part of their scheduled deployment that began Feb. 7.

For Yeoman 3rd Class Jozef Berisha Malaga’s people, sights and activities gave him an all-around positive liberty experience.

“I saw so many pictures of Spain before getting here, and it blew away my expectations,” said Berisha. “The food was amazing, the history inside the buildings was fantastic, and the beaches were beautiful to see in person. I would love to come back and visit again.”

U.S. Marine Cpl. Diego Ramirez, a fellow first-time visitor to Spain, also had a great time.

“I took a tour of the Nerja Caves, which were incredible, and we spent a lot of time at the beach and walking the streets of Malaga,” said Ramirez, a radio operator with the 26th MEU. “Malaga was amazing, and I hope I can return some day with my family.”

Since departing Mayport, Florida, the blue-green team has played a critical role in bringing a ready, versatile amphibious assault capability and vigilant maritime presence to the Mediterranean in addition to working with partner nations to achieve the mutual goal of a peaceful and prosperous region.

The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group embarks the 26th MEU and is comprised of Iwo Jima, the San Antonio-class transport dock ship USS New York (LPD-21), the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), Fleet Surgical Team 4 and 8, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 22, components of Naval Beach Group 2 and the embarked staff of Commander, Amphibious Squadron 4.

The 26th MEU is comprised of approximately 2,500 Marines and Sailors and includes a command element, ground combat element, aviation combat element and logistics combat element.