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America Sailors, Marines Lend 'Willing Hearts' at Soup Kitchen

By Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Demetrius Kennon | | Aug. 15, 2017

SINGAPORE -- Sailors and Marines assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) volunteered at the Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen in the Kembangan-Chai Chee community of Singapore, Aug. 7.

Willing Hearts is a volunteer organization that provides daily meals and other support services to Singapore residents in need, while also assisting and guiding them to self-improvement and contributing to the greater Singapore society. 

Lt. Justin Bernard, a chaplain assigned to the 15th MEU, coordinated the event to allow Sailors and Marines the chance to not only integrate and work with each other, but also to immerse themselves as a unit into Singaporean culture through volunteer fellowship.

"I love [community service projects], especially when we get to see Navy and Marine Corps come together to go out on their own time to do good for others and to interact with the culture," said Bernard. "It was humbling to see all the work [Willing Hearts does] and the number of meals they serve on a daily basis, and to be part of that is very special."

The soup kitchen staff prepares more than 6,000 meals a day. Upon arrival, the Sailors and Marines quickly joined in and began helping to lessen the load. Navy culinary specialists (CS) are very familiar with serving high volumes of food and how to efficiently clean as the meal goes on.

"As a CS, we're taught to clean as we go, so without the cooks even mentioning it, I did what I know," said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Johnnie Mewborn, a native of New Bern, North Carolina, assigned to America. "When they saw that I was on top of it, they said, 'Oh, I like him.' I said, 'I like you too.'"

Others had similar sentiments of connecting. 

"The best thing about today was just talking to some of the [local] volunteers, hearing their stories and why they do what they do," said Sgt. Zachar Iwaniuk, a native of Anaheim, California, assigned to the 15th MEU. 

While the service members stir fried vegetables, packed food into lunch boxes and prepared them for distribution, they also shared experiences and bonded through camaraderie and laughter with the soup kitchen employees.

"Everybody's still smiling," said Tony Tay, chairman of Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen. "[The service members] bring us energy to work."

America, part of America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), is currently operating in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region to strengthen partnerships and serve as a ready-response force for any type of contingency.