NUKUALOFA, Tonga (NNS) -- Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG 111) completed a four-day port call in the northern port of the Kingdom of Tonga, May 10.
The ship's visit marks the first time a U.S. warship has come pierside in Tonga. In 2011, USS Cleveland (LPD 7) anchored offshore, as did USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) in 2013.
During their time in port, members of the crew attended several meetings with Tongan Defense leaders, conducted community relations projects, and held a reception on their flight deck for local dignitaries.
Spruance's Commanding Officer Cmdr. Manuel Hernandez took an opportunity to visit Tonga's Chief of Defense Staff Brig. Gen. Lord Fielakepa, and Navy Component Commander Cmdr. Heiss Fonohema, to discuss maritime security and stability, reinforcing the strong naval partnership between the U.S. and Tonga.
"We value our partnership with the Tongan government and are committed to strengthening our cooperative maritime relationships as the basis for maritime security and prosperity," said Hernandez. "Security and stability at sea serve as the foundation for economic prosperity in the region. Together with our partners, we are committed to keeping the sea lanes open for the benefit of all."
During their time in Tonga, Spruance Sailors also participated in several community relations (COMREL) projects, including assisting with a modernization project at a local hospital and delivering bicycles and various sports equipment to nearby schools, while also working with the local Peace Corps chapter.
"I have always wanted to be involved in a COMREL because I enjoy helping other people," said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Dean Dibble. "This experience was rewarding because we actually got to do something that made a difference."
During the evening of May 10, Spruance's crew hosted a reception on board for distinguished visitors from Tonga, including the guest of honor Deputy Prime Minister Honorable Siaosi Sovaleni, the U.S. Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission Doug Sonnek, members of the royal family, diplomatic corps, and representatives of several foreign embassies.
Following the port visit, Spruance will conduct Oceania Maritime Security Initiative missions. OMSI missions are a Department of Defense initiative, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, to provide enforcement against illegal fishing and poaching in economic exclusive zones (EEZ). Many of the EEZs are in waters with close proximity to the Pacific partner nations of the U.S.
Along with guided-missile destroyers USS Decatur (DDG 73) and USS Momsen (DDG 92), Spruance is part of the Pacific Surface Action Group deployment to the Western Pacific. Spruance departed San Diego, April 19.
Under the operational control of U.S. 3rd Fleet, the PAC SAG is scheduled to conduct routine patrols, maritime security operations, and theater cooperation activities to enhance regional security.
U.S. 3rd Fleet leads naval forces in the Pacific and provides the realistic, relevant training necessary for an effective global Navy.
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