GULF OF THAILAND (March 2, 2011) In this file photo, Sailors watch from a landing craft utility as they pull away from the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) off the coast of Cambodia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam M. Bennett)

SEPANGAR, Malaysia - The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) arrived in Sepangar, Malaysia, for a port visit March 11.

During the visit, Essex will host a reception on board for senior officials from the U.S. and Malaysia, including the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia; commander, U.S. 7th Fleet and the Royal Malaysian Navy's commander, Navy Region Two.

Sailors and Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit will also join in a sporting event with their Royal Malaysian Navy counterparts and will participate in a community service (COMSERV) project at a local refuge for victims of abuse, homeless locals and orphans.

“We've been invited to spend the morning with the residents of Bukit Harapan for a time of support, encouragement and fun,” said Cmdr. James Johnson, Essex command chaplain. “Whether working together or playing, the goal of this, and every COMSERV, is to build friendship and partnership through the expression of sincerity, respect and love.”

The 40 volunteers for the project will bring games and school supplies and get a chance to encourage the residents of the Bukit Harapan Therapeutic Community. There will also be cultural singing, dancing and reading activities.

“Every Sailor is an ambassador, which simply means that on liberty in a foreign port, you are, or may be, the only part of the United States that that host nationals experience first hand,” said Johnson.

Sailors and Marines will also have the opportunity to capture the essence of Malaysian culture through several tours in the nearby city of Kota Kinabalu offered by the ship’s morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) department.

Tour packages will include a Mount Kinabalu climbing expedition, white water rafting, and a trip to Kinabalu Park’s hot springs. Many Sailors expressed their excitement about visiting Malaysia and everything it has to offer.

“This is my first time in Malaysia, and I want to go to the beach, sight see and take pictures for my grandpa and mom,” said Damage Controlman Fireman Ashley Perez. “I’m from Florida, so I like to compare the beaches there to all the beaches that we see on deployment.”

Matthew Olszyk, Essex afloat recreation specialist, said he hopes Sailors and Marines take the opportunity to experience Malaysia through MWR.

“Kota Kinabalu is a great liberty port. Not many Sailors get to see this area of the world and it offers opportunities to climb Malaysia's highest peak,” he said. “Personnel can also enjoy the world famous cuisine in the fastest-growing city in Malaysia.”

After leaving Malaysia, the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) will continue its patrol in the Western Pacific. The Essex ARG reports to Commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, who is headquartered in Okinawa, Japan.