ABOARD USS TARAWA, At Sea (NNS) -- With combat operations in Iraq winding down, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and 5th Fleet made a brief visit to USS Tarawa (LHA 1) to talk to Sailors and Marines serving in the Arabian Gulf.
During an all hands call April 14, Vice Adm. Timothy J. Keating thanked every unit embarked on Tarawa for their contributions to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Your arrival allowed me to report to the President of the United States on the day the war started, and I told him that you were ready to go," said Keating. "It's been hard work, but make no mistake, there's nothing more important going on anywhere in the world except what you're doing right here, right now."
Keating told the packed crowd of Sailors and Marines in the ship's upper vehicle deck that their hard work and effort has made a difference to an oppressed nation.
He said that in Baghdad, the Iraqis have been profusely thanking the Sailors and Marines they have encountered on the streets.
"They give them big bear hugs, grown men are crying, and young children come up to our folks and kiss their hands. They are so glad you all showed up to do your very important work."
Keating's visit to Tarawa came as part of a whirlwind tour to several amphibious assault ships in the region that included USS Nassau (LHA 4) and USS Bataan (LHD 5).
During the visit, he also briefly met with the senior Navy leaders aboard - which included Rear Adm. W. Clyde Marsh, commander, Task Force 51 and Tarawa's Commanding Officer Capt. Jay Bowling. Although he took time to meet with the upper brass, Keating spent most of his brief visit talking to the troops.
"I think he was very encouraging," said Personnelman 2nd Class Theresa Bender from Bowling Green, Ky. "He made me realize that we're playing a part in a larger picture, and that this is an important job we're all doing out here."
"It says a lot for what we're doing out here when higher ranking officials like him come aboard to thank us," said Lithographer 3rd Class Richard Perez, from Buena Park, Calif. "It makes me realize how our work is contributing to the world as a whole."
Before finishing the all hands call, Keating reminded his hosts that they have another duty when they eventually return home.
"When you all get home, you will know in your heart of hearts that you made a difference, each one of you," he said. "And that ought to matter to you, because for the rest of your lives, you will know that you were part of the magnificent effort to liberate an entire nation and to bring freedom to these folks. And it's okay to walk around with a lot of pride in your step."
For related news, visit the USS Tarawa (LHA 1) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/lha1.