BUSAN, Republic of Korea - Seventh Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) arrived in Busan, Republic of Korea (ROK) on Aug. 13 in support of Commander, 7th Fleet and 7th Fleet staff who are participating in the combined forces exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian with the ROK Navy.

While in Busan Blue Ridge and embarked 7th fleet staff Sailors will be directly engaged in the annual exercise, which strengthens US and ROK forces' interoperability and capability to defend the Republic of Korea through field exercises and cyber scenarios.

"Every opportunity we have to exercise with our ROK counterparts makes us stronger operationally", said Blue Ridge Commanding Officer Capt. Rudy Lupton. "During the coming weeks our Sailors will work closely with their ROK military counterparts to build upon relationships vital to achieving our shared goals. This exercise is a tremendous opportunity for our Sailors to observe operations and participate in personnel exchanges with the ROK Navy, building on years of cooperation and shared experiences in a combined-forces environment."

Blue Ridge, 7th Fleet staff Sailors and embarked Marines of Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, 1st Company will participate in several community service projects during the ship's port call. Volunteers will visit with elderly members of the community at the Blue Bird Senior Citizen's Center where Sailors and Marines will go on walks and sing songs with the residents.

Sailors and Marines embarked aboard Blue Ridge will also visit Hee Rak-Wan Children's Welfare Facility and Jinhae Hope Children's Home where they will play games with children and help with spring cleaning and yard work.

While not participating in the exercise, Sailors will have the opportunity to explore Korea on trips sponsored by Morale, Welfare and Recreation, including the shopping district of Osan and the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

"I'm looking forward to the visit. I'm anxious to try out the local food and I'm especially interested in seeing the differences and similarities between Japanese and Korean cultures," said Machinist's Mate Fireman Aaron Stanger.

The military exercises won't be the only way for Sailors to interact with Korean forces. Several sporting events are scheduled with ROK athletes and Blue Ridge's own basketball, soccer and volleyball teams. Sailors will also take to the street with their Korean counterparts during a five-kilometer fun run held during the visit.

Newly selected chief petty officers plan to barbeque for the crew during fund-raisers as part of their chief petty officer indoctrination.

Blue Ridge serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.