By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael H. Lehman
The Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) completed a three-day port visit to Batumi, Georgia, March 20.
While in Batumi, Oak Hill provided guided tours of the ship, hosted a reception for Georgian dignitaries and operated with ships from the Georgian Coast Guard.
The reception, held March 18, on the flight deck of the Oak Hill, hosted distinguished guests that included Vice Prime Minister of the Republic of Georgia Mikheil Janelidze, Georgian Minister of Defense Levan Izoria and U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Ian C. Kelly.
“We are grateful the U.S. has decided to engage with Georgia to strengthen capabilities,” said Janelidze during remarks at the reception. “NATO presence in the Black Sea is very important, and I highly value the contributions of NATO members. This night is very important to building friendships.”
During the visit, the Navy-Marine Corps team not only experienced the sites the city has to offer, but also strengthened U.S.-Georgian bonds by competing against students of the Batumi State Maritime University in games of basketball and soccer.
“The game was a great opportunity to learn more about the people of Georgia,” said Operations Specialist 2nd Class Errick Clough, coach of the Oak Hill basketball team. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to not only play a game we love, but to play alongside our foreign hosts.”
The Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) team aboard Oak Hill offered tours during the ship’s time in Batumi, which offered Sailors and Marines the opportunity to view the city through the eyes of locals.
"Batumi is a dynamic city full of rich culture, delicious food and spectacular scenery,” said Lt. Benjamin Schwabe, MWR officer for Oak Hill. “I am thrilled we were able to offer various guided tours of Batumi to give our Sailors and Marines the opportunity to explore the beautiful region in a safe and educational atmosphere. The tours were very popular among the crew and those who took advantage of them were certainly glad they did."
Oak Hill, homeported in Little Creek, Virginia, and part of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), along with embarked Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), entered the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations Feb. 21, and are conducting naval operations with allies and partners to advance security in the European region.
The Iwo Jima ARG embarks the 26th MEU and includes the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York (LPD 21), Oak Hill, 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.