CHENNAI, India (March 17, 2011) Cmdr. Shanti Sethi, commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) answers question from female students from various city colleges and high schools to commemorate Women's History Month. Sethi brought along eight female Sailors from Decatur to participate in the interaction with the students in Chennai, India. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jennifer A. Villalovos)

CHENNAI, India - The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG 73) visited Chennai, India, March 16-19, giving the crew a chance to experience the culture of India and participate in community service (COMSERV) projects.

For Cmdr. Shanti Sethi, commanding officer of USS Decatur, this was a special visit for her, because she is the first female Indian-American commanding officer to bring a U.S. Navy ship on a port visit to Chennai.

“My father was raised in New Delhi and came to the United States to continue his education and met my mother, who is American, and stayed,” said Sethi. “While I was born and raised in America. I still consider my ties to India to be very strong. I came to India quite often as a child and my first words were in Hindi.”

While the commanding officer has been to India before, this was her first visit to Chennai and a first time visit to India for many of the Sailors aboard Decatur.

“This is Decatur’s third deployment in less than three years and when we were planning the deployment we looked at where we would go for port visits,” said Sethi. “One thing my Sailors consistently asked for was some place they hadn’t been. India was specifically asked for and when the request was granted for Chennai the crew was very excited and has been talking about it ever since.’”

The first day in Chennai, 15 officers and the executive officer of Decatur toured the Indian Navy’s Car Nicobar-class fast-attack craft INS Kora Divh (T 71). Kora Divh’s crew consists of four officers and 42 enlisted Sailors.

“It’s amazing how similar the ship is and the way they run their systems to the way we do,” said Lt. Kelly Martin, Decatur’s operations officer. “The amount of redundancy though the engineering plant and the controlling stations were extremely similar and would be a very easy transition from one of our ships to theirs.”

Many crew members volunteered their time taking part in COMSERV events, which included interacting with female high school and college students to commemorate Women’s History Month, playing a game of basketball and an introductory lesson into India’s most popular sport, cricket.

“In my home country, Guyana, South America, I grew up playing cricket and I haven’t played much since I moved away and playing with Indian Sailors was a lot of fun,” said Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class (SW) Imran Khan. “Most of the U.S. Sailors had never played before and the Indian Sailors did a great job teaching everyone. Everyone had a good time.”

During the visit, Sailors explored the town in search of food, shopping, sightseeing and interactions with the locals in the city.

“This is the first port visit we’ve had since I’ve been on the ship,” said Chief Fire Controlman (SW) Seth Rusackas. “I got a chance to see their way of life and not the Americanized part of a city. I learned a lot about their culture by trying to find places to eat. I walked around town looking for a restaurant that looks good and in the search for food you find the people.”

Decatur’s visit to Chennai marks their first visit from a U.S. Navy ship since 2007.

“This is my first time in India. It’s an honor to be here and an honor to interact with the local Navy and the local people,” said Martin.“ It’s great to spread our partnership and to encourage more partnership in the future."