Jason Dunham Sailors Paint Bulgarian Orphanage
- USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) Executive Officer Cmdr. Kevin Hoffman answers questions, while providing a tour of the ship by for children from a Bulgarian orphanage Courtesy USN
- Chief Fire Controlman Maria Beck, from California, hands out snacks to children visiting USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) during a pizza and wings dinner. Jason Dunham, Burke-class guided-missile destroyer homeported in Norfolk
On a chilly April 4, day, Sailors from USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) boarded a bus to Princess Nadejda Orphanage in Varna, Bulgaria, paint brushes in hand, for an afternoon with local children excited to spend time with their new American friends.
The children could barely contain their curious excitement as Sailors filed inside the facility with paining supplies in hand. Sure they were happy their home was about to receive a fresh coat of paint, but what they were really buzzing about was the exclusive tour of the American warship that awaited them later that day.
Princess Nadejda Orphanage is home to 31 children and was opened more than 100 years ago for orphans of the First World War.
According to Chaplain Andrew Hillier, United Kingdom Royal Navy, who is currently serving aboard Jason Dunham, the U.S. Navy has an ongoing project with Princess Nadejda Orphanage, conducting community relations events whenever ships pull into port.
“The children are always very excited to see the Sailors,” said Yanko Yankov, director of Princess Nadejda Orphanage. “They know that when an American ship comes, they will get a visit.”
As music rang through the halls of the orphanage, Sailors donned old coveralls and proceeded to get to work. There were more than enough hands to take care of the painting and work soon turned into play.
“The painting was fun, but I think the kids were more excited about it than we were,” said Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Mallory Clairmont, Jason Dunham’s command volunteer coordinator, who put together a team for the visit. “The kids endedup painting each other, and painting us as well.”
As some Sailors and children painted, other Sailors sat and talked with children who were interested to learn about their new friends. Excitement filled their eyes as they tried out their best English. “What is your name?” and “where are you from?” were the two most popular questions of the day.
“This visit was very good because it gave the children the opportunity to meet different people from different places and to learn about other parts of the world,” said Yankov.
“And it helped to practice their English,” he added with a smile.
When all the painting was done, everyone went outside to for a game of soccer. The international language of fun was spoken by all.
“The soccer game was fantastic,” said Hillier. “All the language barriers didn’t matter.”
Towards the end of the game, the children were getting anxious to move on to the finale of the afternoon: their own private tour of Jason Dunham.
Cmdr. Kevin Hoffman, Jason Dunham’s executive officer, was excited to have the rare opportunity to show local children around a U.S. Navy ship.
“It was a great feeling to be able to share our ship with the kids,” said Hoffman. “In a lot of respects, it reminds us of home, for those of us who have kids, and being able to spend time with children really was a great feeling.”
Coming up the brow, the children were given full VIP treatment. Paired-up and holding hands, the first stop was the forecastle where the group was shown the 5-inch gun and the forward missile deck. Hoffman answered any questions the children had through a translator as the superstructure of the ship towered over the group.
Next was the bridge, where kids took turns sitting in the captain’s chair. Some pretended to steer the ship at the helm console, while others looked through the “big eyes,” – large, mounted binoculars on the bridge wings.
After a brief stop in the combat information center, it was off to the flight deck to try on firefighting and flight-line gear and marvel up close at the MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter.
The last stop on the tour was the galley and mess decks, where the children were treated to an all-you-can-eat pizza and wings dinner.
The mood was festive while the kids ate and Sailors handed out candy by the boxful for them to take home.
“These projects show that we care not only for our military counterparts, but also for the people of our allied and partner countries,” said Hoffman.
With the shipboard tour coming to an end, there was one last surprise in store for the young guests. Sailors brought out large boxes of various stuffed animals and let the children have their pick.
When it was all over, the children departed the ship with their pockets full of candy and with stuffed animals safely tucked in their arms. They gave Sailors high-fives as they made their way down the brow, waving to their new American friends all the way to the bus.
The afternoon with the children left a lasting impact on the Jason Dunham Sailors as well.
“It was a great experience for the crew. I know it means a lot to share what we have with people who in a lot of respects, are less fortunate than we are,” Hoffman “It really makes you appreciate what we have, and although we couldn’t directly communicate, smiles transcend the language barrier.”
The next morning, Jason Dunham got underway to head towards its next mission, hopefully leaving in her wake, life-long memories and a spirit of goodwill and compassion for the 31 children of the Princess Nadejda Orphanage in Varna, Bulgaria.