PATTAYA, Thailand (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) arrived in Pattaya, Thailand, for a scheduled port visit Feb. 15 after successfully completing exercise Cobra Gold 2010.
During the visit, Essex Sailors will participate in a community service project at a local boy's school and experience Thai culture through tours offered by the ship's morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) department.
"For Thailand, we hope this is a chance for them to see that we care about them. We are using our resources to help them and encourage them in the work they're already doing," said Lt. Jason Rochester, Essex's staff chaplain. "We're able to learn from and interact with each other and hopefully better understand where they're coming from in more than just a military perspective."
Activities will include minor repair work to the facilities and Sailor-student sporting events with the 485 students at the school.
"We plan to do some painting, put up a roof over a patio and interact with the children at the school," said Religious Program Specialist 2nd Class Kevin Olson. "The point of projects like this is to further improve relations between Thailand and the United States"
Many Essex Sailors share Olson's enthusiasm toward the project.
"I want to spend my time making a difference," said Ship's Serviceman Seaman Apprentice Kevin Broom. "Things that don't seem like much to us can mean a lot to someone else."
Broom volunteered with organizations well before joining the Navy and now hopes to help the citizens of Thailand.
When they're not busy with community projects, Essex Sailors will have an opportunity to experience Thailand through the ship's morale welfare and recreation department, which is offering 16 different tours, showcasing the country's culture and landscape.
"We're offering a variety of tours, which will allow our Sailors to experience the country more than they might have been able to do on their own," said Dave Glazier, Essex's afloat recreation specialist. "Coming to Thailand is an opportunity most of us don't get every day, so we really aim to help everyone make the most of it."
MWR tours will feature a variety of options, including Thailand's ancient city of Muang Boran and an elephant ride through the countryside. Many Essex Sailors are looking forward to experiencing the culture Thailand has to offer.
"I'm excited to see the other side of the world and get off the ship. The world might seem small until you get out and see it," said Broom, who is visiting Thailand for the first time.
Other Essex Sailors have been to Pattaya before and are looking forward to returning.
"Even though this is my third time coming to Thailand, there is still a lot I haven't seen or done," said Aviation Support Equipment Technician 3rd Class Timothy Bedwell, of Seattle. "There is a lot of history in this place. There is always something new to learn and a lot of interesting people to meet and interact with."
Even with the many activities the port visit has to offer, Bedwell noted the importance of knowing the role Sailors will play while interacting with the Thai people.
"When we're out on liberty, we all know that our actions and attitudes are reflecting not just ourselves and our ship, but also our country as a whole," said Bedwell. "I want to portray Americans as interested in learning about other cultures and wanting to strengthen our friendship with the Thai people."
Essex, commanded by Capt. Troy Hart, is part of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group and is currently conducting spring patrol in the Western Pacific.
For more news from USS Essex (LHD 2), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd2/.