The Portsmouth-based Coast Guard Cutter Legare completed a historic five-day port visit in Liberia Feb. 19.
With a recent end to Liberia's long civil war, Legare became the first U.S. military ship to moor in Monrovia in more than 17 years.
As part of Commander, Naval Forces Europe-Africa's strategy to improve maritime security and safety in the Gulf of Guinea, Legare is part of a unique naval task group comprised of USS Kauffman (FFG 59) and elements of the Destroyer Squadron 60 staff that is currently deployed off the coast of West Africa to strengthen regional maritime partnerships.
"Many of these countries are trying to develop capabilities that we would normally associate with coast guards rather than navies in the traditional sense," said Commodore John Nowell, Commander Destroyer Squadron 60 and task group commander. "They seek the ability to
monitor, patrol and interdict their coastal waters to protect national interests."
"Legare is a tremendous asset," said Nowell, "and the unique skill sets that a Coast Guard cutter brings as we seek to help our African partners build maritime capability and capacity has proved to be invaluable."
The cutter was greeted on the pier by local Liberian dancers in a variety of native costumes. The entire crew lined the rails of the ship's flight deck and stretched the length of the pier to view the cultural display.
"In all of the ports I have pulled into over the years," said Legare's Commanding Officer Cmdr. Andrew Tiongson
, "this was the best welcoming I have ever received."
The crew returned the hospitality by conducting a community relations project at Ricks Institute, a Liberian school that is rebuilding after being severely damaged during the civil war.
Crewmembers painted the interior of the new medical clinic alongside the local staff, while
Legare's physician assistant and corpsman provided operational advice to Ricks' nurse.
Once the work was completed, an impromptu soccer match ensued. With a crowd of more than 50 local spectators who joined in the fun, Legare's crew discovered they were better with paint brushes than with a soccer ball. Still, the community engagement provided a great opportunity for building friendships with the people of Monrovia.
Professional exchanges also took place, and included a small arms safety familiarization program with the Liberian Presidential Security Force. Legare engineers worked with the National Port Authority devising solutions to return the port's non-functional patrol boat to service and created an extensive "vessel owner's manual" for future reference.
While the crew was building relationships, Tiongson and other Legare officers met with key officials, including Eva Clinton, Deputy Commissioner for the Bureau of Maritime Affairs; Togba Ngangana, Managing Director for the Liberian National
Port Authority; Major General Mohammed Tahir, UNMIL Deputy Force Commander; and Ophelia Hoff Saytoman, Mayor of Monrovia.
These official calls focused primarily on the importance and restoration of Monrovia's port, maritime security, the rebuilding of Monrovia, and the future of Liberia. The crew hosted these same officials and more than 40 other key Liberian, U.S. Embassy, and foreign country dignitaries at an onboard reception. The guests expressed their excitement about the cutter's presence in Monrovia and a desire for more U.S. naval ships to visit the port.
Prior to departing, the crew played another soccer match with members of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Although both sides gave it their all, the score quickly became unimportant. Liberian and players swapped jerseys at halftime and inner-mixed the teams, which proved a great way to get to better know each other. At the end of the game, a lot of smiles and handshakes were exchanged, and both sides left with a high sense of camaraderie.