By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class David Holmes
Thirty Sailors and Marines from the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) visited the Agios Stephanos Foundation as part of a community relations (COMRELs) event in Limassol, Cyprus, March 20.
The Agios Stephanos Foundation provides housing and care for disabled adults. Iwo Jima service members spent their time at the foundation meeting residents and working together with staff members to refurbish a garden by removing debris, trimming greenery, and planting new trees.
Emily Andreou, deputy manager for the Agios Stephanos Foundation said residents were excited to meet the service members since they’d never been visited by American military members before. She also said residents use the garden often to relax, so the improvements will make the area even more enjoyable.
“For many of our Sailors and Marines this was their first opportunity to engage with a foreign culture in this manner,” said Cmdr. Paul Tremblay, a chaplain aboard Iwo Jima.
Tremblay said COMRELs present a unique opportunity for Sailors and Marines to interact with the local population and create positive memories they wouldn’t normally get to experience.
Some Sailors make volunteering for a COMREL a priority in each country they visit.
“I've been deployed before and have seen many foreign countries,” said Fire Controlman 1st Class Jason Pugh, a COMREL participant. “I would much rather help out the community and see the country from the ground level. I'd do a volunteer opportunity every day in port for the remainder of the deployment if they're available.”
COMRELs are part of a broad Department of Defense mission to strengthen international relationships and promote good will through positive, personal engagements. U.S. embassies, such as the one in Nicosia, Cyprus, play a key role in coordinating events like these that leave lasting, shared experiences with visiting service members and local communities.
Iwo Jima, the command ship of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and homeported in Mayport, Florida, visited Limassol, Cyprus, as part of a scheduled port visit and is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.
The Iwo Jima ARG embarks the 26th MEU and includes the Iwo Jima, the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51), Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 8 and FST-4, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 28, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 22, components of Naval Beach Group (NBG) 2 and the embarked staff of commander, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 4.