BEERWAH, Australia -- Sailors
assigned to the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD
2) participated in a community relations project at the Australia Zoo
in Queensland, Australia, June 7.
During a brief port visit to Brisbane, 25 Sailors worked hand-in-hand
with employees of the Australia Zoo, helping out in various ways
including landscaping, construction work and store inventory.
Commander, Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet, coordinated with the
Australian Zoo to schedule the community relations project. Once the
initial plans were made, USS Essex Command Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Kevin
Sweeney pulled the final pieces together to ensure the project would
be a success, explained Lt. Harlan L. Kimball III, another Essex
The Sailors landscaped and dug drainage ditches for a new cheetah
exhibit and had an opportunity to work with mates of the late
crocodile hunter Steve Irwin.
“It was a really enjoyable experience,” said Interior Communications
Electrician 1st Class (SW) Christopher Auker. “It was interesting to
hear all their stories about Steve and what he accomplished. They
couldn’t believe how much Steve meant to everyone around the world.”
For one of Australia Zoo’s employees working with the Sailors, the
visit made a lasting impact.
“This was a once in a lifetime sort of occasion, I reckon,” said
Robert Verdich, an Australia Zoo construction worker. “I’ll be
bragging about this to me mates for awhile. They may have seen the
ship on television, but I can say I got to work with them.”
Following the day’s work, everyone spent several hours exploring the
“It was fun seeing the park; the people are very friendly here and
made us feel very at home,” said Auker. “It was a day well spent.”
With the success of the zoo community service, future projects could
be in the works for other U.S. Navy ships visiting Brisbane.
“It was successful because of the volunteers and the zoo staff working
so hard together,” said Kimball. “We are invited to come back at
anytime to do it again. The staff at the zoo and the volunteers both
had a great time interacting with one another.”
Essex is the only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship and serves
Task Force 76, the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious force. Task
Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa,
Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.