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USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), along with its embarked Africa Partnership Station staff, arrived in Rota, Spain, Feb. 22 after a 10-day transit across the Atlantic Ocean and on the heels of its participation in Haiti relief efforts.
Gunston Hall is serving as the flagship for African Partnership Station (APS) West 2010, an international initiative designed by Naval Forces Europe and Naval Forces Africa to foster enhanced maritime safety and security in west and central Africa. After the visit to Rota, the APS team will depart for its first African port visit in Sekundi, Ghana.
"Visiting Rota, Spain, is not only critical for on loading APS mission materials and people, but also to our Spanish navy and marine partners who are joining our international staff to assist our efforts in Ghana and beyond," said Capt. Cindy Thebaud, commander, Africa Partnership Station.
The stop in Rota will offer the crew a chance to restock supplies and bring on additional staff before heading to the coast of West Africa.
Gunston Hall Commanding Officer Cmdr. Fred Wilhelm said he is excited for the opportunity for his crew to visit this historic European port.
"After the hard work and dedication this crew put into helping the people of Haiti, for them to take a few days off, to relax and enjoy the sights is important," he said. "I have no doubt that Naval Station Rota will provide outstanding service in preparing this ship for our APS deployment."
The ship and embarked APS West staff took part in Operation Unified Response, a coordinated effort to provide relief to victims of the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake which struck Haiti on Jan. 12. Gunston Hall was diverted to the area just prior to the start of the APS West deployment to assist with the relief effort. While in Haiti, the ship and APS staff provided medical assistance, distributed food aid and relief supplies to the local populace, and helped rebuild the Killick Haitian coast guard base. The Killick base is located slightly west of downtown Port-au-Prince. The APS Marine element embarked in Gunston Hall embedded with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit ashore and also assisted with disaster relief efforts in the Carrefour region.
The stop in the Spain will also give APS Sailors time to relax and discover Rota's culture.
"Visiting Rota for the first time has piqued my interest," said Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Christopher Anderson, a Gunston Hall Sailor. "I'm looking forward to catching up with old friends and enjoying the sights and the fine cuisine, but most of all I really just want to relax and enjoy a day or two off before heading to West Africa."
During APS West 2010, Gunston Hall is expected to make port calls in two West African countries – Ghana and Senegal. In each location, the navies of several African countries will converge for specialized training, custom tailored to each country's expressed needs.
APS training will include professional exchanges on maritime security, seamanship, environmental stewardship, and maritime awareness, along with numerous humanitarian and civic outreach opportunities. The APS staff consists of naval personnel from several African, European, and South American nations.
The APS West team also expects to drop off Project Handclasp material in Sao Tome and Principe.
Gunston Hall, a Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock-landing ship, is on a scheduled six-month deployment to the 6th Fleet Area of Responsibility. The ship recently completed a mid-life modernization availability. The work included major upgrades to the ship's control system, local area network and machinery control system, propulsion systems, HVAC, as well as replacement of the ship's boilers and evaporators with an all-electric services system.