HAIFA, Israel — The amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and embarked elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Special Operations Capable (SOC) began a port visit here Jan. 2.
Kearsarge was greeted by Rear Adm. Ram Rutberg, commander, Haifa Naval Base, who hosted U.S Navy Capt. Frank Ponds, commodore, Kearsarge Strike Group and Col. Doug Stilwell, commanding officer, 22nd MEU (SOC) at Haifa Naval Base headquarters.
"It gives me great pleasure to welcome Kearsarge to Haifa," Rutberg told Ponds and Stilwell. "Between navies and between peoples it is important to build a warm and open atmosphere to dialogue and discussion. You have certainly done that and I am very glad that you are here."
During the office call, Ponds related that visiting ports throughout the region was important to maintaining strong relationships and creating new ones.
"Cooperation is vital in the global environment," said Ponds. "So much of our shared economic and security concerns rely on the ability to safely and reliably use the sea; therefore, it's important that maritime partners routinely meet and discuss those concerns."
Stilwell added that the visit marks a continued relationship between the U.S. and Israel.
"We regard Israel as playing a key role in responsible nations working together to build better lives for their people," said Stilwell. "Preserving freedom of the seas, specifically for the smooth operation of the world's economy, is in the mutual national interests of both Israel and the U.S."
While in port, Sailors and Marines intend to visit many of the historical sites in the country. Tours throughout the port visit have been sold out.
"Ticket sales for tours in Israel have been fantastic," said Tina Massa, Morale, Welfare and Recreation officer on board Kearsarge. "It's clear that Sailors and Marines want to learn about Israel, its culture and history."
While deployed in 6th Fleet, the Kearsarge Strike Group and 22nd MEU (SOC) continue to help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment. The group's efforts will focus on making the oceans more transparent and secure and strengthening regional maritime partnerships.