VIDEO: Jamaicans in US Navy honoured to serve here
KEVIN White and Maurice Gill wore broad smiles as the 453-foot USS Underwood docked at Kingston Container Terminal, Port Bustamante on Thursday.
For both men, the Mayport-based Oliver Hazard Petty class guided missile frigate's deployment here is more than an assignment; it represents a return home.
White, an Electriaicn's Mate Chief, and Gill, Petty Officer First Class, grew up in two of Kingston's tough communities — Standpipe and Rollington Town respectively.
"We are very happy to be here, and to us this is a great honour," said White, who migrated to the United States at a young age and eventually joined the US Navy.
Both men arrived with other sailors as part of a Southern Seas mission which, Commander Peter Mirisola explained, is an annual collaborative deployment in the US Southern Command area of responsibility under which various exercises and multinational exchanges are conducted.
The mission is also expected to build military relationships and enhance multinational force interoperability.
Information on the US Navy website explains that during the Southern Seas mission, US and South American forces will participate in three major exercises.
On Thursday, USS Underwood crew members participated in a special reception hosted by the United States Embassy to celebrate Jamaica's 50th anniversary of Independence.
White, who has 19 years' service in the US Navy, said he was happy to see the development taking place in Jamaica, especially as the country moves towards celebrating 50 years of Independence.
Added White: "During our journey we will be celebrating in our own ways and will be keeping the flag flying high and will be monitoring what is happening, even in the Olympics."
Gill, who worked at Seprod before he left the island to join the US Navy, said "The opportunity has been great. I have had a lot of opportunities to see the world and to be a role model to young people at home."
They urged young men in particular to think big and to stay focused in school.
"Education is the key and the way out of your problems," said White.
While in the island, crew members of the USS Underwood will also provide humanitarian assistance at children's homes in St Ann.
The mission marks the final deployment of the ship as she will be decommissioned in March 2013 after 28 years in operation.
The USS Underwood has been involved in numerous counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean and was also deployed to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake in support of Operation Unified Response.