MANILA, Philippines - The 7th Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) arrived in Manila Feb. 13 for the ship's first port visit to the Philippines since August 2010.

Blue Ridge and embarked 7th Fleet staff Sailors will strengthen ties between the two countries through community service events, combined military training and cultural exchange during the port visit.

"U.S. Sailors have a long and close history with the people of the Philippines. It is a pleasure to see command ship Sailors out in town strengthening bonds during community service projects, building friendships on liberty and sharing the differences and similarities in our intertwined cultures. Many Blue Ridge Sailors have family and heritage here. It's this diversity which makes our countries' relationship so powerful and lasting," said Cmdr. Kirk A. Knox, Blue Ridge executive officer.

Blue Ridge Sailors will host Philippine navy sailors for tours and displays during the ship's stay, including demonstrations of fire fighting, navigation and seamanship techniques.

"We are going to invite the Philippine sailors to tour our deck department spaces, show them some of the knots we use and then take them to the main deck and practice heaving lines," said Ensign Lindsay Bochner, assistant first lieutenant. "It's a great opportunity to share our experiences and hear how they operate."

Blue Ridge's repair division will expand on shipboard firefighting equipment and techniques, focusing on the organization and practices of the damage control training team, said Lt. Belmonte, the ship's damage control assistant.

This visit is especially anticipated for Sailors like Belmonte, who have roots in the nation of 7,107 islands, and will have the opportunity to catch up with friends and family during the ship's stay.

"I'm looking forward to seeing my mom. I haven't seen her since August and it's always nice to be back in Manila," said Lt. Jerry Belmonte, the ship's damage control assistant. "She's really proud of me. I've come a long way. I came in the Navy 19 years ago as a seaman recruit and was part of the last batch of Sailors recruited from Subic Bay," said Belmonte.

Sailors without family in the area still have many options to experience the local culture through the ship's morale, welfare and recreation program, said Ensign Jamie Howe, recreation services officer.

"MWR trips take care of everything so Sailors can enjoy parts of the city the may never see without extensive planning," said Howe. "Sailors are picked up at the pier and they can choose from 10 different tours with dozens of side trips."

More than 200 Blue Ridge and 7th fleet staff Sailors will also participate in community service, band performances and sporting events in and around Manila.

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