BUSAN, Republic of Korea (NNS) -- More than 5,500 Sailors of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 7 and five ships departed two Republic of Korea ports July 18 after a routine port visit marked by numerous community service activities across the area.
The strike group's flagship, the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14, the guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley (DDG 101) departed Busan, while the guided-missile destroyers USS Decatur (DDG 73) and USS Howard (DDG 83) left the port city of Chinhae.
More than 240 strike group Sailors donated their off-duty time at orphanages, rehabilitation centers for the disabled and homes for the elderly July 15-16.
"One of the things I'm proudest of is our Sailors' willingness to go into the communities and volunteer their time and energy," said Rear Adm. Phil Wisecup, Commander, Carrier Strike Group 7. "The best photo I saw from Korea was our men and women helping to clean a retirement home and giving shoulder rubs to the elderly. In the Korean culture, there is an absolute reverence for their elders. They really appreciated the attention. It was eye-watering."
The project, at the Blue Bird Retirement Home, involved 25 Ronald Reagan Sailors working side-by-side with 15 of their counterparts from the Republic of Korea Navy. At Sae-Deul-Won, a local orphanage, 25 Reagan Sailors cleared weeds and cleaned around a tennis court and gave candy to the children.
Ronald Reagan Sailors said they felt lucky for the opportunity to lend a helping hand.
"The orphanage visit went great," said Chief Information Systems Technician Michael Clyborne, a Ronald Reagan volunteer. "Anytime you can be an ambassador for your country, it's a privilege."
Sailors also helped out at the Sin Ae Rehabilitation Center for the mentally disabled. Some felt as though they received more from volunteering than they gave.
"I felt as though this visit [to the center] was more for me than for them," Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Ben Lenardson. "It helped me see this culture in a new way. The child I spent time with had such a great attitude about holding my hand for half a day and walking me through a park.
"We had no way to communicate, yet he showed me thankfulness and kindness. I was touched."
USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) Sailors -- 25 in all -- visited the Busan Cheonma Jaehwalwon home for mentally disabled children and adults. The Sailors met and greeted residents and then cleaned around the home.
"We continue to have more volunteers than projects at each port we visit," said Ronald Reagan Strike Group Chaplain Cmdr. Lee Axtell.
When not giving of themselves, strike group Sailors took time to relax.
"I enjoyed photographing the mimosa and cypress trees, which were so different than what we see at home," said Machinist's Mate 1st Class Maurice Windham of Ronald Reagan.
Others are already talking about coming back again.
"Busan is a great port, and I couldn't be more pleased with the visit," said Capt. Kenneth Norton, Ronald Reagan's commanding officer. "Our Sailors enjoyed some great cultural exchanges, and made a difference in the community performing service for others. We also had a great time hosting guests aboard the ship and making new friends out in town. We can't wait to come back."
The strike group remains in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility, promoting cooperation, security and stability in the Western Pacific.
For more news from USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) - Ronald Reagan Strike Group, visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn76/.