HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, July 3, 2006 - Two U.S. Navy ships - USS Patriot and USS Salvor -- completed a five-hour, navigationally complex transit down the Saigon River to arrive here July 1 for a scheduled port visit aimed at enhancing U.S.-Vietnam relations and allowing the sailors of both ships to experience the culture-rich city and outlying area.
The visit is the fourth U.S. Navy visit to a Vietnamese port and the third to Ho Chi Minh City since normalization of diplomatic relations in 1995. This visit will mark the first time that two U.S. Navy ships visit Vietnam concurrently.
Both ships flew the Vietnamese flag alongside the U.S. flag during the river transit, a symbol, said the commanding officers, of the unified relations that the two nations are continually developing. Such relationship development is the key to this port visit, they said.
"USS Patriot and its crew feel honored to the have the opportunity to visit Vietnam," said Lt. Cmdr. Richard D. Brawley. "While here, sailors will have the opportunity for positive exchanges with the people of Vietnam and contribute to the community. We are confident that this visit will lead the way for a stronger bilateral relationship between our two countries."
U.S. Consul General to Vietnam Seth D. Winnick echoed Brawley's thoughts on the importance of the visit and what sailors should be able to get out of it.
"This port visit is a further step to building bilateral ties between these two nations and making relations between the two ever more normalized," said Winnick from the bridge of Patriot. "This visit should provide the sailors an incredible opportunity to see and understand Vietnam today, and likewise allow the people here to understand the sailors and a little more about America. Ho Chi Minh City, and throughout Vietnam, exudes an atmosphere that is very warm and friendly, and I am confident the sailors will enjoy their visit here."
During their visit, the crews will carry out a community service renovation project at the Thien Binh Orphanage in Dong Nai province on two separate days.
U.S. sailors will also play a volleyball match with sailors from the Vietnamese navy, conduct ship tours for invited guests and enjoy visiting historical and cultural sites around Ho Chi Minh City. The captains of both ships and leading officers are making a number of courtesy calls during the visit, including a floral presentation at Ho Chi Minh City Monument and the People's Committee, the city's governing body, today.
"We are glad to welcome them to our country," said Maj. Le Thanh Hai, an officer in Vietnam's coast guard. "We feel connected between militaries, between nations. ... They are friends. We want to show them Vietnam, to experience our country."
For many of the 180 visiting U.S. sailors, this visit to Vietnam will undoubtedly be a highlight of their military careers, while further cementing the growing friendship between the U.S. and Vietnamese military services, said Brawley.
Salvor's commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Colby Howard, noted the importance of this visit in national diplomacy, "The visit is part of both countries' efforts to promote mutual understanding and continue the improvement of bilateral relations."
Brawley said his ship's sailors will exemplify an ambassadorship for America and be respectful of the history and heritage of the Vietnamese people while in port as they already have throughout the current deployment.
Both Brawley and Howard said feel the ships' deployment milestones will culminate in Vietnam.
"Patriot sailors - and I am sure Salvor's too - have come to know and understand several countries throughout Southeast Asia because of this deployment," said Brawley, whose crew has been involved in two sets of exercises and a number of port visits, including to Brunei, prior to coming to Vietnam. "We are now doing something that very few Navy ships have had the opportunity to do before us. I know the crew understands the opportunity in front of them and will take full advantage of the experience."