By Lt. Keith Connor, Navy Chaplain, USS Mount Whitney
As the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) entered a regularly-scheduled overhaul period earlier this year at the San Giorgio del Porto Shipyard in Genoa, Italy, it was all about general repair and maintenance.
But, along with modifications, the crew found opportunities to engage in volunteerism and community service by participating in various community relations (COMREL) projects.
Since August, and during a time of increasing COVID-19 restrictions, the crew looked for ways to show their appreciation for the hospitality given to them in their temporary home. Mount Whitney found ways to give back to the local community by conducting four “Good Neighbor” clean-up projects in the port area, attending a COMREL organized through the U.S. Consulate, and participating in a women’s event at the American International Women’s Club, all while maintaining the safety of the crew and community.
Fifty one Sailors participated in four “Good Neighbor” clean-up COMRELs spanning from August to October, which resulted in nearly a hundred bags’ worth of trash being collected from the streets within the City of Genoa’s shipyard.
The hard work was not lost on the shipyard business owners and residents. Many who passed gave a friendly gesture or said, “grazie, grazie mille,” which means “thank, thank you very much” in Italian. On another occasion, one shipyard worker insisted on buying every volunteer a bottle of water, refusing to let the volunteers pay for themselves. In subsequent cleanup projects, those passing by waved and expressed gratitude from their car windows.
Sailors from Mount Whitney said seeing gratitude from those in the local community made each event a meaningful experience.
“It is wonderful to clean up a shipyard street and see how a small message can impact not only those in the shipyard but also people who live in that community,” said Operations Specialist 3rd Class Stephanie Tessier. “I really feel we are being good neighbors to those who have invited us to be here.”
Tessier said she was happy to engage in the community and broaden her experience during her time in Genoa.
“I am glad we have been able to get out in our new neighborhood and not remain on the sidelines,” said Tessier.
While the U.S. Consulate in Genoa planned multiple COMRELs, increased COVID precautions allowed for only one to be completed. In September, Mount Whitney Sailors worked with the Coronata Campus, a non-profit organization serving refugees predominantly from Africa and Asia who have come to Italy seeking asylum.
Mount Whitney Sailors and Civilian Mariners also donated nine bags’ worth of clothing, which were collected as part of the ship’s clothing donation program.
Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Alexander Rivera-Rivera said she appreciated the opportunity because it not only helped the community but also provided some much-needed labor to help the Coronata Campus save on costs and give more attention to the refugees who live there.
Another unique COMREL event in which Mount Whitney Sailors participated was the American International Women’s Club annual “Welcome Back Coffee” event on October 1. Three Sailors attended the women-only event, where they had the opportunity to share stories, discuss the group’s vision for the year ahead, and receive mentoring by older woman from all over the world.
“I truly enjoyed the great opportunity of interacting with women from around the world in such an inspiring location,” said Operations Specialist Seaman Erin Williams. “Even though I am new to the Navy and to Mount Whitney, hearing everyone’s stories made me realize how special my own story is and what I have to share.”
Mount Whitney, forward-deployed to Gaeta, Italy, operates with a combined crew of U.S. Sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.
U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests, and promote security and stability in Europe and Africa.