HOBART, Tasmania (NNS) -- The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and its crew of more than 300 Sailors enjoyed four days of liberty while visiting Hobart, Tasmania, during a routine port visit July 1-5.
Among other activities, Fitzgerald Sailors spent the visit sight-seeing, shopping and participating in a pair of community service projects.
Fitzgerald's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) department coordinated a number of tours for the ship's crew, including organized climbs of nearby Mount Wellington, tours of historic Port Arthur, and visits to the world-famous Cadbury chocolate factory.
One of the most popular tours proved to be a visit to Bonorong Wildlife Park, where Fitzgerald Sailors got to see kangaroos, wombats and other animals indigenous to Australia. Sonar Technician 2nd Class (SW) Kenny Schlittler, of Belleville, Wis., was one of the Sailors who went to visit the wildlife.
"There's only one place in the world you can go to see a Tasmanian devil, and that's in Tasmania," said Schlittler, who caught a glimpse of the native carnivore during feeding time. "There are so many things you can do in Australia that you really can't do anywhere else. It's a whole other world from being in the States or being in Japan."
Along with relaxing and taking in the sights, a dozen Fitzgerald Sailors took time to participate in a pair of community service projects. One group of Sailors visited the children's ward at Hobart's Royal Memorial Hospital, where they interacted with young patients and handed out gifts. Another group from the ship spent an afternoon restoring a playground at the Ronald McDonald House, a facility that provides shelter for families with sick children in nearby hospitals.
"I sign up for every project we have because it's just so much fun," said Ship's Serviceman Seaman Jean French, of Buffalo, N.Y., who worked on the playground restoration. "I just think it's a great opportunity to show people that the U.S. Navy does care, and we're here to help and make sure people are safe and O.K."
Likewise, many Fitzgerald Sailors found the Hobart community to be very caring and hospitable during the ship's visit.
"The people of Australia, in general, and Hobart in particular, are known for their tremendous hospitality," said Cmdr. Bradley Smith, Fitzgerald's commanding officer. "The better we get to know our allies personally, the more effective we can be in working together professionally."
Along with ship-sponsored community service projects, Fitzgerald Sailors had numerous other opportunities to get to know Hobart's citizenry.
The ship's basketball team played a friendly match against a local amateur squad at the Warner Sports Facility. As team coach for Fitzgerald's squad, Boatswain's Mate 1st Class (SW) William Biles, of Cleveland, got to take in all aspects of the game from the sideline.
"It's a good feeling, because you get to get out there and interact with other people," said Biles about being able to play in a foreign port. "It's good for relations between our country and their country, and we always feel welcome to play."
Also during the port visit, the Returned Servicemen's League (RSL), a club comprised mostly of Australian World War II veterans, hosted Fitzgerald's chief's mess for an afternoon luncheon. Many Fitzgerald chiefs in attendance, like Chief Gunner's Mate (SW) Dan Donohue, felt an immediate sense of familiarity with their Australian hosts.
"It was like a brotherhood, like we were in the same organization," said Donohue, a Philadelphia native. "And I think that's typical to all Australia. People in general are glad to see us."
As the weekend wrapped up and Fitzgerald prepared to get underway, many Sailors returned to the ship with fond, lasting memories.
"Not many people back in the states get to experience this kind of place," said Ship's Serviceman Seaman Mike Putze, of Inola, Okla. "It's fun to be somewhere that not everybody else can be. It's a great experience."
"The entire crew was warmly welcomed by the people of Hobart, and I think great friendships were forged that will last many years," said Smith, who lauded the port visit as a success. "I know the entire crew is looking forward to returning."
An Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, Fitzgerald is a part of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, and is permanently forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. The ship visited Tasmania on the heels of its successful participation in the combined U.S. and Australian military exercise Talisman Saber '05, and is currently conducting operations in the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet area of responsibility.
For related news, visit the USS Fitzgerald Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/ddg62/.