CAIRNS, Australia (July 7, 2009) --
More than 1,800 Marines and sailors from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) visited Australia for the first time when the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the forward-deployed dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) pulled into Cairns, Australia, June 28 – July 6.
The port visit offered MEU Marines and sailors the opportunity to experience Australia’s unique culture and get involved in a number of recreational activities before moving on to the Shoalwater Bay Training Area to participate in Exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS ’09).
Service members were also able to travel beyond Cairns and meet new people through a variety of tours that showcased some of the area’s best recreational activities and sites. Tours offered by Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) included five hours of white water rafting, trips to the Outback, a two-hour tour through Cairns on horseback and variety of other adventures.
“The Marines should definitely try at least one tour to see the tropical beauty of this part of Australia and mix in with the locals in the community. I strongly recommend that all Marines take advantage of the tours offered and get a little bit farther than the downtown area,” said Mick Hultz, the MWR recreation specialist for the Essex.
“I went on the zoo and the horseback riding tour,” said Cpl. Julie Martinez, a 31st MEU radio operator. “I was able to feed kangaroos, which I have never seen before in my life, and hold crocodiles and a koala bear, so it was pretty cool time for me,”.
For those wanting to explore the city of Cairns on their own, “Australia’s adventure capital”, offered five-star hotels and a variety of restaurants specializing in Australian, Italian, Thai, Swiss and a number of other cuisines service members could sample before immersing themselves in the city’s busy night life, according to an Australian travel brochure.
In an article by The Cairns Post, Ritchie Midson, a local bar manager, said he enjoyed catering to the Marines. He added, “They were really polite and good guys.”
Members of the 31st MEU reciprocated Midson’s statement.
“I have been to over 15 port visits with Essex and Cairns is definitely the most hospitable community I have experienced,” said Hultz.
Cairns police’s Sen-Sgt. Michael Bishop said the Americans upheld the highest standards during the port visit.