PATTAYA, Thailand (Aug. 9, 2011) Yeoman 2nd Class Joel Carter, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73), interacts with students at the Thung La Han School during a community service event. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jennifer A. Villalovos)

LAEM CHABANG, Thailand (NNS) - The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) departed Laem Chabang, Thailand following five days of rest and relaxation for the crew during its most recent patrol Aug. 11.

"Just before we pulled into Thailand, the crew worked around the clock for 56 days at sea, so they definitely earned this time off," said George Washington Commanding Officer Capt. David Lausman. "In port, they proudly represented our country while enjoying themselves. I couldn't be prouder of them."

George Washington Sailors enjoyed tours and cultural activities offered by the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation department during the port visit.

"The one thing I wanted to do in Thailand was to ride an elephant and I'm glad I did it," said Boatswain's Mate Seaman Hermajesty Ford from Fresno, Calif. "That's something I will remember for the rest of my life."

Sailors from George Washington also participated in a friendly cook-off competition at a local hotel, allowing them the opportunity to demonstrate their skills. Chefs from the hotel also took time to share a few Thai recipes with the culinary specialists.

The competition consisted of seven teams; four from USS George Washington, two from USS Cowpens (CG 63) and another from USS Mustin (DDG 89).

"Our secret ingredient was love. If you love your food, it's going to be great," said Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Benjamin Batenhorst, one of the Sailors in the competition.

The crew also made a difference in the lives of Thailand's less fortunate by coordinating nearly a dozen community service (COMSERV) projects.

"These COMSERV opportunities are not only beneficial to the children but also serve to enrich the lives of the Sailors too," said Lt. Cmdr. Jose Pimentel, George Washington COMSERV coordinator. "The kids really like seeing service members from around the world, so when the crew rests and relaxes in Pattaya they can also spend time to have an impact on the lives of those living in hardship."

Thai people see these gestures of good will as true symbols of friendship, explained Pimentel. And while the goal of the port visit was to rest and relax following a long tour at sea, the crew also conducted training with the Royal Thai Navy, focusing on anti-surface warfare and search-and-rescue operations.

"We have learned a lot and are happy to have this opportunity to conduct military-to-military training," said Royal Thai Navy Commodore Somkiat Somksawat, Naval Air Division, Royal Thai Navy.

For nearly 600 people, the port visit provided them with the opportunity to tour a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Tour groups included local businessmen, children from an orphanage, Boy Scout packs, members of a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and families from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. George Washington's executive officer provided a tour to a member of Thailand's royal family, Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana.

George Washington returned to patrolling the waters of the Western Pacific June 12, 2011, departing her forward operating base of Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan. More than 5,500 Sailors are aboard from George Washington and Carrier Air Wing 5. George Washington's mission is to ensure security and stability in the 7th Fleet AOR and to be in position to work with our allies and regional partners to respond to any crisis across the operational spectrum as directed.

For more news from USS George Washington (CVN 73), visit www.navy.mil/local/cvn73/.