ZHANJIANG, People’s Republic of China (NNS) -- Following a three-day port visit, Sailors of USS Juneau (LPD 10) and Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) departed Zhanjiang Nov. 18 for bilateral exercises in the South China Sea.
The port visit was highlighted by interactions in a multitude of settings from sports to ship tours, to receptions to joint planning for a bilateral search and rescue exercise (SAREX), which began Nov. 19.
Juneau and its crew were welcomed with much fanfare to Maxie Naval Base in Zhanjiang, the headquarters of the People's Liberation Army's (Navy) (PLA(N)) South Sea Fleet (SSF) Nov. 15. Though U.S. Navy vessels had visited Zhanjiang twice before, this was the first time that a U.S. ship had moored inside the naval base, with PLA(N) ships and Juneau even sharing the same pier.
The "warmth" of that initial greeting, which included a military band and floral presentation, continued throughout the entire stay, said Juneau Commanding Officer, Capt. John D. Alexander.
"The level of hospitality was overwhelming," said Alexander, "not only from our military counterparts but also from the Zhanjiang people. Our PLA(N) friends were gracious hosts at every turn, and we tried to reciprocate that in the various events hosted by us. All in all, I think the Sailors and embarked Marines got to know their counterparts better and found some common ground with them."
Juneau's arrival coincided with a scheduled visit by Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Gary Roughead, whose weeklong trip to China brought him to Zhanjiang and then on to Beijing, where he met with the U.S. ambassador for China and the PLA(N)'s chief of naval operations.
While in Zhanjiang, Roughead held important discussions with top leaders of the South Sea Fleet, including Commander, South Sea Fleet, Vice Adm. Gu Wengen. Roughead imparted on them the U.S. Navy commitment to work toward a continual increase in mutual cooperation and transparency.
Roughead and Alexander, along with Marine Lt. Col. Marcus Annibale, officer-in-charge of the embarked 31st MEU Marines aboard Juneau, were invited to tour one of the PLA(N) ships and also were given a special capabilities exhibition of the PLA(N) marine force. Roughead, who took advantage of an invitation to shoot at a marine rifle range after the marine demonstrations, said he was impressed with the capabilities of the PLA(N) and further emphasized that their cooperation was key to regional security.
"What I see out here is a high level of fitness and a drive for excellence -- traits exhibited in U.S. Marines," said Roughead on the field of the marine exhibition site. "We have a lot of things in common, and those commonalities will hopefully lead to our increased level of bilateral engagement between our forces."
Throughout the visit, Sailors and Marines of both countries were able to learn from each other. Chinese sailors were eager to learn about systems, tools and procedures that go into life aboard a U.S. Navy ship and vice versa for U.S. Sailors. The sporting competitions, ship tours and receptions afforded a perfect opportunity for exchange - and also a little fun.
"We want to be friends with you," said Lt. Schneeder Teng, of the PLA(N), during a ship tour aboard Juneau. "You are all very nice and do good for the whole world."
Many of the Juneau Sailors felt honored to be part of the momentous occasion, knowing that they were helping build relations with between the United States and China.
"I do feel honored because I have a lot of respect for the Chinese people," said Ship's Serviceman 3rd Class Eric I. Deguzman, a tour guide on Juneau during the tours. "To see them enjoy our ship so much was a good feeling. I know that this whole visit was an incredible opportunity, one that I greatly learned from and won't forget."
Juneau, commanded by Alexander, is part of the Sasebo, Japan-based USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76. Task Force 76 is the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force and is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.
For more information on CTF 76, visit www.ctf76.navy.mil.
For related news, visit the Commander, Amphibious Force, U.S. 7th Fleet Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/ctf76/.