USS ESSEX, Hong Kong - While many Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit were out experiencing a foreign culture during their port visit, some had the opportunity to interact with Chinese service members of the People’s Liberation Army and other city leaders of Hong Kong.

Eight Chinese military officers were among many guests on the USS Essex (LHD 2) during a flight deck reception held for government, business and military dignitaries from the special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China, Nov. 17.

“It’s been two years since our last visit to this beautiful part of the world,” said U. S. Navy Capt. Mark Weber, commodore, Amphibious Squadron 11. “We are always anxious to return here, where we are met with a warm and gracious welcome.”

The port visit to Hong Kong comes during a time of heightened international attention in the region, but for the visiting guests, it was all about building relationships.

“It was a great experience tonight to meet with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in Hong Kong and to see all the flags flying together.” Chinese Senior Capt. Xujing Cai, Navy chief of staff, Hong Kong Garrison, People’s Liberation Army. “I have had many chances to meet with members of the American military and tonight is special.”

Capt. Michael Quin, a UH-1N Huey pilot with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, shared his background and flight experience with the visiting PLA officers.

“This is a unique chance,” said Quin. “To be able to talk with the Chinese officers, share our experiences, and see what we have in common is valuable.”

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Craig Buckner, maintenance material control officer and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas Smith, avionics officer, both with HMM-262 (REIN), 31st MEU, talked about their roles in keeping the helicopters in top shape.

“The challenges we face in maintaining aircraft are similar,” said Buckner. “It was good to be able to brief another nation’s military on our capabilities and hear a little bit about theirs.”

Also among the guests on the USS Essex (LHD 2) for the reception was Ambassador Stephen M. Young, Consul General of the United States in Hong Kong.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to come together,” said Young. “I hope all of you will have the chance to talk to some of the U.S. crew and get to know some of the reasons why they joined the military and what they’re doing in this grand endeavor.”

Lt. Col. Joshua Luck, commanding officer, Marine Attack Squadron 542, 31st MEU, showed the visiting Chinese military officers the AV-8B Harrier jets of his squadron.

“To be able to visit Hong Kong is wonderful,” said Luck. “But to be able to visit with our Chinese military counterparts, get a chance to shake their hands and develop friendships – that is what this is all about.”

The reception concluded with guided tours by Navy and Marine officers, who explained how the Navy Marine Corps team works together to accomplish the mission.

It has been two years since the last visit by Amphibious Squadron 11 and the 31st MEU to Hong Kong.

The Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU and PHIBRON-11 remain the nation’s force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region, and are capable of conducting a wide spectrum of military operations including limited contingency response and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.