KOKOPO, Papua New Guinea - A rugby game between Kokopo high school students and a 21-person Pacific Partnership team took place Sep. 6 at the Kokopo Secondary School here as part of Pacific Partnership 2010. The community service project (COMSERV) rugby game was one of the ten scheduled COMSERV programs being conducted during the mission’s Papua New Guinea visit.

“The experience was great since it was the first time many of the U.S. Sailors played in a rugby game,” said Chaplain Derrick Horne, leader of the overall COMSERV effort for the Pacific Partnership 2010 mission. “The game not only provided an incredible opportunity for our U.S. Sailors to engage the local community, but also the Sailors from USS Vandegrift to play hand-in-hand with the contingent from HMAS Tobruk. You cannot underestimate the impact these interactions have with the local community and also the positive impact they leave on our own personnel.”

HMAS Tobruk (L50) is serving as the Flagship for the U.S.-led Pacific Partnership 2010 mission in Papua New Guinea, hosting Destroyer Squadron 21, as well as medical contingents from USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF), and engineers from Amphibious Construction Battalion One, the Australian Second Combat Engineer Regiment, and the PNGDF. Sailors from USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) are also participating in the eight-day mission.

Spectators at the two-half, 80-minute game were also treated to a half-time musical performance by the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band. More than 400 students, parents and faculty enjoyed the sounds of the brass band ensemble, many of whom were hearing these instruments for the first time.

It was little wonder that a school such as Kokopo Secondary School, which has a dedicated “Sports Day” each month where students and faculty participate in a wide range of sports, was able to fend off the combined team of players from Australia and the U.S. The Kokopo team also recently won the area rugby championship title.

Despite the loss for the visitors, the U.S. Sailors earned recognition – and a few laughs – from the Kokopo audience and Australians alike.

“With no prior preparation or training the team played a cohesive match, even despite the final score. The U.S. Sailors were quick to master the basic skills and the game was played at a really fast pace,” said Royal Australian Navy Petty Officer Physical Trainer Brian Fish.

As with previous sporting events during Pacific Partnership 2010, the competitive aspect of the game is always overshadowed by the bonds made on and off the field.

“Today’s game demonstrated that the U.S. Sailors have a long way to go with not only soccer, which at best we’ve only won one soccer game so far this deployment, but now we have to learn about rugby,” said Horne with a smile. “At the end of the day, these games always result in a win-win situation for all of us due to the tremendous relationships we are able to form and the friendships and memories we have created that will remain long after we depart.”

Kokopo Secondary School may see an increase of rugby games amongst their student population as some of the younger children scored “Pacific Partnership” embossed rugby balls from the Pacific Partnership 2010 Mission Commander, Capt. Lisa Franchetti, who was there to watch the teams play.

Pacific Partnership 2010 is the fifth in a series of annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance endeavors aimed at strengthening regional partnerships. Papua New Guinea is the last of six countries to be visited under Pacific Partnership 2010. Mercy visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste while USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) visited Palau.