By MC2 Hunter S. Harwell
USS Iwo Jima Public Affairs
Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit capped off their visit to Freeport, Bahamas by hosting a reception for local distinguished guests June 16.
The 600-person ceremony was co-hosted by Capt. James Midkiff, Iwo Jima commanding officer and Ms Lisa Johnson, ChargÃ© d'Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas and included tours of the ship and a performance from the Iwo Jima Choir, who performed both countries' national anthems.
"This entire week was a wonderful experience for all involved. Many Iwo Jima Sailors got to visit a different country for the first time and several participated in multiple community relations projects that allowed them to meet Bahamian citizens, said Midkiff. "From a strategic stand point, the Bahamas is a close ally that shares many cultural, educational and security interests with the United States. It was gratifying to come down and re-inforce our support for our friends, while also, experiencing a beautiful island paradise. "
ChargÃ© d'Affaires Johnson discussed the importance of maintaining a bond between the two nations.
"We thank you for hosting us here tonight," said Johnson. "This visit is a great reminder of the partnership between our two countries on critical security issues such as drug and firearms trafficking and irregular migration. Beyond those challenges, the U.S. and The Bahamas share a common history, values, commitment to democracy. Whether it's ensuring the safety of U.S. and Bahamian citizens, furthering trade and development or promoting clean energy, the U.S. is committed to this partnership with you and every day we will continue to strengthen our relationships to make our countries safer, more prosperous and a better place to visit."
Additionally while in Freeport, Sailors and Marines also participated in three community relations (COMREL) projects at the West End Primary School and participated in various sports functions with local children.
"We had one group helping clean up the sea park that was damaged by Hurricane Matthew and then we had two groups here at the school," said Lt. Doyl McMurry, a Chaplain assigned to Iwo Jima. "Some of us were painting the classrooms to give it a fresh look for the kids and another group spent some time reading books to kids and playing games in the school yard."
During the COMRELs, Sailors and Marines took turns reading stories to the school children, painted several classrooms, cleaned the school yard and planted several trees.
"COMRELs give the local nationals a positive face of the Navy and it also gives our Sailors and Marines a chance to see the actual faces of the people of the nation and their culture," said McMurry. "We're looking forward to many more interactions we can have with the locals in the future."
Iwo Jima is undergoing a series of certifications in preparation for future operations and deployments.