SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia (March 2, 2011) Avaiton Support Equipment Technician 1st Class Philip A. Lapan, assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), hands out books during a community service project at the Village d’enfant de Sihanoukville orphanage. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Casey H. Kyhl)

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia - Sailors assigned to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) participated in a community service (COMSERV) project March 2 at the Village d’enfant de Sihanoukville orphanage in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

During the COMSERV, 36 Sailors played sports, handed out dozens of donated books and read to the 100-plus children living at the facility.

“The mission of the Navy goes far beyond sailing ships,” said Cmdr. James Johnson, Essex command chaplain and COMSERV coordinator. “The purpose of these events is to give Essex Sailors time to get to know our host nationals, and I think we definitely made a few friends today.”

The day began with a traditional Cambodian welcome dance performed by some of the orphanage children. The Sailors responded by teaching the children the "Hokey Pokey" before the group split up to play sports and read books.

“I don’t think you get the full experience of visiting a country unless you make an effort to meet some of the local people,” said Fire Controlman 3rd Class Bryce Perkins. “I got to know a few great kids today.”

Children who have lost their parents stay at the orphanage until they have graduated from high school or can support themselves. The facility has sports equipment, a school house and multiple looms that the children use to make textiles.

“Whether you are in Thailand, the Philippines or Cambodia, kids are kids and fun is fun,” said Johnson. “I’m grateful that we got the chance to come out here and make a contribution to this community. I think the Sailors enjoyed it and I think the children did too. There were a lot of smiles everywhere.”

Books for the COMSERV were donated by E.J. King High School at Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan.

The COMSERV project was one of the final events of the Cambodia Maritime Exercise 2011. During the exercise, Sailors taught courses in military leadership and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's medical staff worked with their Cambodian counterparts to provide primary care services, dental care and optometry care to Cambodians in the Kampong Som province.

Essex, commanded by Capt. David Fluker, is part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and is on patrol in the Western Pacific.