TALCAHUANO, Chile (NNS) -- Guided-missile frigates, USS Boone (FFG 28) and USS Thach (FFG 43), departed Talcahuano, Chile, after spending five days participating in events with the Chilean navy, June 16.
The ships' visit focused on building relationships between the navies of the U.S. and Chile through ship tours, sports and personal interaction events.
The first event of the port visit was the delivery of more than 60 stuffed animals from the Loving Hugs organization and three pallets of medical and hygienic products provided by Project Handclasp, to evacuees of the Mount Puyehue volcanic eruption.
Five Sailors traveled by van for nearly seven hours to reach the Liceo Antonio Varas School, which is housing for more than 500 evacuees in Lago Ranco, just 20 km from the volcano. At the shelter, Sailors met with staff and spoke to the families about their experiences.
"It was rewarding for me to be able to speak the language and meet with the people and share their experiences," said Information Systems Technician 1st Class (SW/AW) Carlos Ortiz, assigned to Boone. "They were very grateful for us being there, and very willing to share information about the volcano and how they were coping with life in the shelter."
Boone and Thach were pierside at the Talcahuano Naval Base, which is a short ferry ride to Quiriquina Island, the home of the Chilean navy's Escuela de Grumetes, or recruit training school. More than 300 grumetes traveled from the island and came aboard Boone and Thach for tours.
"I was raised in South America, so I speak the language and I feel like we have a lot in common," said Electronics Technician (SW) Fred Hannah, assigned to Boone. "The grumetes were very interested in our ship and how we operate. It was great to be able to share how our Navy works and how we live aboard Boone."
U.S. Sailors also had the chance to see how the grumetes live and work. More than 70 Sailors boarded the ferry and headed to the Escuela de Grumetes training facility for a day of tours and sporting events.
"It was a cool experience to meet the U.S. Sailors and show them around," said Grumete Jonathan Torrejon Franco, a recruit on the island, who recently spent ten days embarked aboard Thach. "There is a feeling of brotherhood between us, which is very good and I hope you have liked our home."
After a day of soccer and basketball, the U.S. Sailors shared a traditional dinner of empanadas, beef and rice, prepared by the recruits. The dinner gave the Sailors and grumetes one final opportunity to share stories, experiences and trade personal naval patches, T-shirts and pins.
"Being able to see the extensive training these recruits go through, which helps them better prepare for the fleet, has been amazing," said Culinary Specialist 1st Class (SW) Lucio Diaz, who is assigned to Thach. "Not to mention, we've been able to play some soccer with them and have a great time."
Eighteen Sailors from Boone and Thach also spent a day at Escuela Corneta Cabrales, a local elementary school, where they painted and removed debris. The school was affected by an 8.8 earthquake and tsunami, which struck Chile in 2010. The Sailors spent time with the kids and handed out soccer balls.
"Most of the children come from navy families, so they were comfortable and affectionate with the American Sailors," said Herrera. "They even asked if they could keep soccer balls as souvenirs, instead of playing with them. It was especially beautiful for me to see the Sailors interact with the children because my father was in the Navy."
This is the first time a foreign navy has been able to arrive at the pier at the Talcahuano Naval base since the earthquake and tsunami severely damaged the base and nearby city.
"The relationships we built in Talcahuano extended well beyond the normal common courtesies we have experienced in other places," said Cmdr. Roy Love, commanding officer of USS Boone. "We built solid and lasting friendships with our sponsor ships, the submarine force, and the Escuela de Grumetes, which I personally hope will last for many years to come."
Boone and Thach were in Talcahuano for a port visit during their Southern Seas 2011 deployment. The port call is part of a six-week stretch of American-Chilean naval exercises culminating in the Pacific Phase of UNITAS.
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