ABOARD FRENCH NAVAL VESSEL LE MISTRAL --
Marines and sailors from the amphibious ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, III Marine Expeditionary Force, met with French Naval service members aboard their vessel, Le Mistral, May 23, as part of a joint service interoperability program to experience how the other half lives and works.
More than a dozen Marines and Sailors flew to the Mistral aboard CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters and were welcomed warmly by members of the French Navy. During the visit, the U.S. service members had the opportunity to dine with their French counterparts for lunch enjoying a fine cuisine that included veal, squid, potatoes, rice and wine.
"The food was great," said Seaman Apprentice William Hardy, a culinary specialist aboard the USS Essex. "It’s been a while since I have had food like that."
After lunch, French service members escorted the Marines and Sailors throughout the ship for a brief tour. The entertainment and storage facilities along with the bridge of the ship were some of the highlights of the tour.
"They had 40 tons of rice and various other supplies standing by in their storage facility that could be used for relief efforts," said Capt. Raymond Howard, the embarkation officer for the 31st MEU.
Although the meeting was lighthearted and entertaining, it also served as a bridge between two different services combining forces for a greater cause; potential relief effort operations.
"I think it definitely raised the level of knowledge of what each service could bring to help those in need," Howard said. "In this particular case, I believe the French had a lot of relief supplies that would be needed, but with limited material handling equipment and distribution assets. Whereas, we have plenty of assets to offset the handling equipment they’re missing so it would be great to see us partner with them and get those in need the supplies they require as fast as possible."
Meanwhile, the French service members were glad to have the U.S. Marines and Sailors aboard their ship for the meeting.
"It was really nice and enjoyable to mix international forces," said French Leading Rate Jessye Leforestier, an administrative secretary with the French Navy. "The benefit of the U.S. Marines and Sailors visiting our ship are huge. This may help future operations where the French and U.S. Forces may work together for a noble cause."
The Essex Amphibious Ready Group along with the 31st MEU is currently off the coast of Burma in support of Joint Task Force Caring Response ready to support potential humanitarian assistance tasking in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.