OFF THE COAST OF SUMATRA, Indonesia (NNS) -- USS Benfold (DDG 65) Sailors are making a difference in the humanitarian relief efforts in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in January.
Teams of eight Sailors stationed aboard Benfold are flying into Banda Aceh daily to work at Sultan Iskandar Muda Air Force Base. There, Benfold Sailors, along with Sailors from other USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Carrier Strike Group ships and squadrons, work hand in hand with international military and civilian relief workers to unload humanitarian aid from trucks to waiting helicopters that deliver the aid to survivors in remote locations.
The effort has an immediate impact on the Sailors' outlook.
"I feel good about what I am doing," said Seaman Johan Flores. "I feel like I really make a difference. This is my first deployment, and already this is the best thing I've ever done in my life. Everybody was working together in a united fashion, everybody from different countries. I'd definitely do it again."
Benfold was in Hong Kong on a port call when the tsunami struck southeastern Asia Dec. 26, almost immediately changing the ship's plans and attitude.
"The biggest change, as far as the ship is concerned, has been in the mindset of the crew about the job that we're doing here by realizing that we're helping out the people of Indonesia," said Cmdr. Donald Hornbeck, Benfold commanding officer."
The call to participate in what has come to be known as Operation Unified Assistance canceled Benfold's scheduled port visit to South Korea, but Sailors aboard Benfold know that helping out is part of the Navy's mission.
"It's my job to help people out," said Seaman Frank Jimenez-Medina. "I'm from Columbia, and I would want us to help out people from my country, too, so I want to help here."
Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Roy Powell hasn't been ashore yet, but he was able to witness the tsunami's damage firsthand as a RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) crew member working with an embarked team of Navy Oceanographic International Survey Team members.
"Being able to do things like volunteering is why I joined the Navy. I wanted to better myself and give back to my country. And helping people we don't even know says a lot for our nation, and I'm glad to be a part of it."
For some of Benfold's Sailors, it will be an experience that will last a lifetime.
"This is the kind of stuff that you never forget," said Jimenez-Medina. "I'll always be saying that I was here and helped. My children will know and my grandchildren will know that I was here."
For related news on Navy tsunami relief operations, visit the Focus on Tsunami Relief Operations page at www.navy.mil/local/tsunami.
For more news from around the fleet, visit the Navy NewsStand at www.news.navy.mil.