MAYPORT, Fla. (NNS) -- Dock Landing Ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44), along with an embarked U.S. Marine Corps Theater Security Cooperation Task Force (SCTF) and a U.S. Navy staff element from Destroyer Squadron 40, departed Naval Station Mayport, Fla., Jan. 16.
The ship will begin a two-month deployment to the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) area of responsibility (AOR) in support of Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station (A-SPS) 2011.
Southern Partner Station is an annual deployment of various specialty platforms to the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility (AOR) in the Caribbean and Latin America. The mission's primary goal is information sharing with navies, coast guards, and civilian services throughout the region.
Commander, Destroyer Squadron Four Zero, Capt. Brian Nickerson, will serve as the mission commander for A-SPS 11 while the Sailors and Marines conduct subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs) with partner nations in the region. During the deployment, Gunston Hall will visit Belize, Columbia, Guatemala and Jamaica.
"This is a great opportunity to exchange information and build cooperative partnerships," said Capt. John Meier, USS Gunston Hall commanding officer. "Although we're a fighting force, we're also a force for goodwill."
Led by Lt. Col. Paul Baker, TSCTF is made up of elements from Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, Second Tank Battalion, Second Assault Amphibian Battalion and Second Marine Expeditionary Force. The Marines will conduct SMEEs, which allow for joint operations between partner nations, including live fire exercises, search and rescue, martial arts, land navigation and combat marksmanship, in order to develop regional, civil and maritime services' capabilities to respond to a variety of maritime missions while exercising lines of communication between regional security services.
Gunston Hall is also prepared to provide "first-responder" capabilities in the event of any disaster relief response while deployed to the region.
In addition, Gunston Hall will be transporting 89 Project Handclasp pallets, as well as gifts donated by various non-governmental organizations including Loving Hugs, Inc., Give a Kid a Backpack and Samaritan's Feet.
"These gifts will be given out to children as they come in contact with Marines and Sailors," said Cmdr. Lewis Preddy, Commander, U.S. Fourth Fleet Project Handclasp coordinator.
"This (mission) is something that I am really looking forward to, and it will be very rewarding," said Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Johan Sanchez, a Gunston Hall supply petty officer who was born and raised in Colombia. "I am happy to be going back to Colombia, my home country, and giving these things to the people and children who need them."
Project Handclasp is a U.S. Navy program that accepts and transports educational, humanitarian and goodwill material on a space-available basis aboard U.S. Navy ships for distribution to foreign nations.
"This is a great thing that we don't always get to do; it gives Marines a chance to help shape the kids of these countries," said Lt. Col. Paul Baker, TSCTF commander. "Maybe 20 years from now those children will look back and remember this."
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (COMUSNAVSO) is the naval component command for USSOUTHCOM and is responsible for all naval personnel and assets in the AOR. COMUSNAVSO conducts a variety of missions in support of the U.S. maritime strategy, including security cooperation, relationship building, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, community relations, and counter-illicit trafficking operations.
For more information, visit www.public.navy.mil/comusnavso-c4f, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SoutherPartnershipStation, or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NAVSOUS4THFLT.
For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusns/.