USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) prepares to anchor in Hong Kong, March 20. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Samuel Weldin)

HONG KONG - U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) arrived in Victoria Harbor March 20 for a port visit in Hong Kong.

Blue Ridge has been regularly visiting Hong Kong since forward deploying to Yokosuka, Japan in 1979, and will take part in cultural exchanges and community service activiites with the local community.

“Port visits like this are an important part of our mission,” said Blue Ridge Command Master Chief Mark Tomlinson, giving the crew a chance to experience a different culture, make new friends and see sights they might not normally be able to see, while interacting with the local community.

During the visit, crew members will volunteer at Po Leung Kuk, a life education and elderly support center, and participate in various activities and games with children from underprivileged families through the Loving Kids organization.

“These goodwill engagements are a big contributor in strengthening our relationship with Hong Kong,” said Religious Programs Specialist 1st Class Brian Jewell. “These opportunities give Sailors a chance to leave a lasting impression on people who may never meet another American.”

“A Sailor can learn a lot more by spending time with the community in this way,” said Tomlinson. “They get more out of the visit than heading to a mall, cinema or shopping area. It’s a true bonding experience that most Sailors and the people they touch will remember for years to come.”

Additionally, the Meals in the Homes organization reached out to fifteen families who will be hosting Sailors and Marines at their homes or to showing them around the city.

“I can’t wait to meet the family that will be hosting me,” said Quartermaster Seaman Arena Kittle. “I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to eat a home cooked meal and learn about Hong Kong from the people that live there.”

The ship’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) committee organized tours that give Sailors and Marines an opportunity to experience the history and culture of Hong Kong.

“MWR is offering everything from rock climbing to visiting the city of Macau, which was the oldest European settlement in the Far East,” said Electronics Technician 1st Class Christopher Knepper, president of the Blue Ridge MWR committee. “The MWR office in Hong Kong is great at taking all the common places and sights and mixing them with things not so well known, helping to create memories that Sailors and the people of Hong Kong can carry forever.”

The Blue Ridge team consists of more than 900 crew members including embarked 7th Fleet staff, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 “Golden Falcons” and Marines from Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team Pacific.