The guided-missile frigate USS Thach (FFG 43) departed Acajutla, El Salvador Sept. 3 after three days of community interaction and tours as part of Southern Seas 2011.
Thach Sailors participated in a community relations (COMREL) project, El Salvador's independence celebration opening ceremony, a soccer game and lunch with the city's mayor.
"We had less military-to-military engagement during this port visit, but it was equally important for the crew to explore El Salvador and the capital city," said Cmdr. Jeff Scudder, Thach's commanding officer. "The interaction with the people of El Salvador helped build understanding and friendships, which underscores our commitment to peace and security throughout the region."
On the first day of the port visit, 10 Sailors painted a stage and pavilion at the Aleman Botanical Park located in the heart of Acajutla. The pavilion and park will be used for the month-long ceremonies and events celebrating El Salvador's and Central America's independence from Spain 190 years ago.
"It's important for Sailors to get the opportunity to see and do things locally that might otherwise be missed," said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Lucio Diaz, COMREL coordinator. "We typically do these projects in areas of need, the less fortunate parts of town. The Sailors are able to see how the people live and they are left with the satisfaction of knowing their hard work has made a difference."
Six Sailors attended the opening ceremonies if the independence celebration on Sept. 1. Isabel Marie Aleman, Acajutla's mayor, invited the Sailors to attend the ceremony and raise the U.S. flag alongside the flag of El Salvador and the flags of Central America. According to Aleman, this was the first time the U.S. flag was raised during Acajutla's independence celebration.
"We are all very grateful to have the American flag raised during our ceremony," said Aleman. "I'm honored to have the Sailors here to provide these projects and truly help a community in need."
Aleman invited the participating Sailors to a tour of Acajutla and an afternoon at a local resort on the beach. Aleman and members of her staff joined the Sailors for lunch in appreciation for their work and participation in the community.
"Being able to speak Spanish in these ports has been a blessing," said Diaz. "I was able to explain our mission as Sailors, and in return, understand more of the local heritage and culture on a personal level. When it was time to leave Acajutla, I felt I was leaving behind not only friends, but family as well."
Thach's soccer team, made up of nine players, also went into Acajutla for a match against El Salvador's sailors.
"Soccer is an international sport," said Chief Quarter Master Jesse Gaytan, head of Thach's soccer team. "The rules are the same all over the world and it's easy to get off the ship and play anywhere we go. It opens up a lot more doors and builds many more friendships with each game."
Acajulta marked the final port visit for the Southern Seas 2011 deployment to Central and South America. Over the past six months, Thach participated in three major international exercises and made stops in seven countries. Thach is scheduled to return to her homeport of San Diego in mid-September.
"As we prepare to return to San Diego and reunite with our loved ones, our visit to Acajutla will leave lasting memories of friendships we made with the local citizens of this small city," said Scudder. "In the end, this is what Southern Seas was all about and it finished on a perfect note."
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet (COMUSNAVSO/C4F) supports U.S. Southern Command joint and combined full-spectrum military operations by providing principally sea-based, forward presence to ensure freedom of maneuver in the maritime domain, to foster and sustain cooperative relationships with international partners and to fully exploit the sea as maneuver space in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.
Article by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Steve Smith, Southern Seas 2011 Public Affairs