USS GUNSTON HALL, At sea (NNS) -- USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) departed Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story Jan. 15 as part of the U.S. Navy humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts for the victims of the earthquake near Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
"The fact that we are flexible and are well versed in these types of operations makes us the platform of choice for these missions" said Cmdr. Fred Wilhelm, commanding officer of Gunston Hall. "We bring the capability of making 72,000 gallons of water a day, we have medical facilities on board, and we're bringing landing craft, along with Marines to help with any tasks that might come our way."
Originally planning to deploy to Africa as part of Africa Partnership Station (APS) West, that mission was placed on hold to take part in relief efforts. Gunston Hall was to begin the Navy's third APS deployment, with an international staff headed by Capt. Cindy Thebaud, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 60.
"It's particularly fitting that we have a multi-national team on board because this will undoubtedly be an international effort over the long haul for the response to the disaster in Haiti," Thebaud said.
The ship got underway with approximately 130 Marines aboard as part of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) originally slated for the APS mission, with additional Marines being brought aboard on the way to Haiti.
Teamwork is essential in missions like this, according to the MAGTF Commander, Marine Lt. Col. John Golden.
"Sailors and Marines are always excited to go to sea for the real mission," said Golden. "A great aspect of this mission to Haiti is that one of our APS missions was to train our host nation to conduct humanitarian, disaster, and recovery efforts, and, that will now be done for real."
Gunston Hall Sailors are also eager to pitch in, as are the international APS staff.
"This is my first deployment and I'm really excited that we're going to Haiti to help out," said Engineman 3rd Class Kenneth Blessant. "I'm a small boat engineer and will help transport some of the Marines and supplies to the beach."
"Being from a poor country, I understand how the Haitian people feel," said Lt. Assane Seye, a naval officer from Senegal taking part in APS. "I know that I would be very happy to receive help if I needed it, which is why I am very proud and grateful to be part of this mission."
Gunston Hall, a Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock-landing 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.
Africa Partnership Station West is an international initiative developed by Naval Forces Europe and Naval Forces Africa that aims to improve maritime safety and security in West and Central Africa.
For more news from Gunston Hall, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/lsd44/.