By Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 25, 2009 - USS Chinook departed here today marking the first overnight port visit to Iraq by a U.S. ship. "The U.S. Navy has operated in the region for more than 60 years, and Chinook's visit marks the first time a U.S. ship has remained overnight in Iraq; that's extremely significant," Navy Rear Adm. Thomas A. Cropper, deputy commander for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said. "Chinook's visit exemplifies the great confidence we have in our Iraqi partners and reflects the excellent improvements in security that they have achieved.
"It also demonstrates our commitment and partnership with the government of Iraq, its people and the Iraqi navy."
While in port, the ship's crewmembers participated in friendship-building activities with several senior Iraqi officers, and also took on fuel and other supplies.
"This is an important day for us and for Iraq," Navy Lt. Allen Maxwell, Chinook's commanding officer, said. "Our visit gave us a chance to interact with senior Iraqi navy leadership and further enhance cooperation with the Iraqi navy and marines. Today was an extraordinary opportunity, and I am proud to have made a positive difference in Iraq's future."
Cropper was pier side for Chinook's arrival here and said he hopes more coalition ships will visit the Iraqi port in the months and years to come.
"Visits like this are important because they help reinforce the strong ties that already exist between our two navies," Navy Cmdr. Thomas Cawley, Naval Forces Central Command's country engagement officer to Iraq, said.
Coast Guard Cutter Aquidneck's port visit here Dec. 15, 2008, marked the last visit by a U.S. ship to the port in southern Iraq.
Coalition maritime forces in the North Arabian Gulf maintain a naval and air presence to safeguard the region's vital links to the global economy.
"Our forces are here to foster security and cooperation in the region and 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 throughout this region."
(Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen serves with the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command public affairs office.)