By Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 13, 2008 - As part of Iraq Navy Day celebrations, USS Firebolt made a port visit to Umm Qasr, Iraq today, marking the first visit by a U.S. ship to Iraq in more than 15 months. "Our port visit to Umm Qasr demonstrates the great confidence we have in our Iraqi partners and reflects the marked improvements in security that they have achieved within the past several months," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Trent Thompson, Firebolt's commanding officer, said. "This visit gave us a chance to interact with senior Iraqi navy leadership and further enhance coalition cooperation with the Iraqi Navy and marines."
While in port, the ship's crew members were able to participate in friendship-building activities with several senior Iraqi officers.
"Making a port visit to Iraq and interacting with Iraqi officers is very important, because it builds relationships and promotes positive interaction between our navies," Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class David Moore, an electronics technician, said. "Today was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am proud to help make a positive difference in Iraq's future."
An Iraqi officer said he was pleased Firebolt made a port visit to Umm Qasr and took time to visit Iraq. "This is an important day for us and for Iraq," he said. "Having this ship visit Umm Qasr is a big step, and we hope more coalition ships can visit this port as well."
Navy Rear Adm. Thomas A. Cropper, deputy commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, celebrated Iraqi Navy Day with senior Iraqi naval leaders yesterday and was pierside for Firebolt's arrival to Umm Qasr.
"There has been significant progress in Iraq during the past year and a half that allowed Firebolt to make this port visit to Umm Qasr," he said. "Visits like this are important, because they help reinforce the strong ties that already exist between our two navies. This visit clearly demonstrates the coalition partnership in maritime security with the Iraqi Navy and our commitment to the government of Iraq and its people."
Following the ship's visit to Umm Qasr, senior Iraqi naval officers and members of the Naval Transition Team inspected operations on the Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal. There, they discussed the role of Iraqi and coalition forces protecting Iraq's key maritime infrastructure. U.S. and coalition maritime forces provide assistance to the Iraqi Navy in defending Iraq's major oil platforms. These terminals are significant sources of Iraqi government revenue and contribute about 80 percent of Iraq's gross domestic product.
Led by Combined Task Force 158, coalition maritime forces in the region maintain a naval and air presence to safeguard vital links to the global economy. These key maritime infrastructure nodes are the foundation for the region's economic growth, stability and prosperity, officials said, and they significantly affect the global economy.
"Our forces are here to foster security and cooperation in the region and to conduct operations that contribute to peace and stability," Cropper said. "U.S. and coalition forces provide the assurance of security and stability that enables the economic development and growing prosperity of the people throughout this region. The people of Iraq are beginning to enjoy these benefits, and our cooperation with the Iraqi Navy will ensure that they prosper as they expand their participation in the global economy."
(Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen serves with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs.)