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New Liberian President Thanks U.S. Sailors for Support

American Forces Press Service

MONROVIA, Liberia, Jan. 17, 2006 – The newly elected president of Liberia visited USS Mount Whitney sailors and civilian mariners today while the ship was off the coast of Liberia's capital city, Monrovia.

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Newly elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf visits with U.S. and Navy officials aboard the USS Mount Whitney, flagship of the U.S. 6th Fleet, on Jan. 17., off the coast of West Africa.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Mount Whitney, the U.S. 6th Fleet's flagship, and frigate USS Carr were deployed to the area as a sign of support for the newly elected leader.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf came aboard via "Ghostrider," the MH-60S helicopter stationed aboard Mount Whitney. She briefly met with Navy Capt. Ladd Wheeler, the ship's skipper, and several other key staff members before having a brief tour and addressing the crew.

"Thank you so much for all your help," she said. "Your presence here is a reminder to the people of Liberia that we can count on the United States for anything. We have much work to do in our country, but we know that you and your country will be there to stand by us no matter what."

After her speech, the president stood with the crew as USS Carr sailed past and rendered honors with its crew manning the rails.

The crew of the Mount Whitney listened intently to Johnson Sirleaf's remarks and many said that hearing the new president speak was the highpoint of their trip to the region.

"We didn't know she was going to come visit the ship, and we certainly didn't think she was going to address the crew," Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristen Brown said. "Hearing her speak was definitely a highlight. I think that it was good for her as well as the ship."

Just sailing to Liberia offered some excitement for the crew of the two ships. While en route to Liberia, the ships' crewmembers rescued six people adrift in a broken-down boat.

Two lookouts from Mount Whitney spotted the small vessel with six men aboard Jan. 14. The men appeared to be waving flags and buckets, anything they could do to get the attention of one of the passing vessels, nearly 100 miles off the coast of Sierra Leone. The vessel was in distress and had been at sea for about 35 days, the crew later learned. The boat was from Ghana, and had run out of food and water and had a dead motor.

Mount Whitney and Carr immediately took action, with Carr approaching the vessel and cautiously before dispatching a rigid-hull inflatable boat to make contact directly with the crew. Aboard the small vessel they found a bad situation that could have been much worse, officials said.

Lt. j.g. William Kotowski, a Coast Guard officer assigned to USS Carr in an exchange program, was the first to make contact with the men aboard their small fishing boat, typical of the West African region.

"I could tell that the six people on board were desperate for our assistance because they did not stop waving their arms and yelling until our small boat got alongside," Kotowski said. "The only thing that I could think was, 'Please, God, don't let us be too late for someone.'"

Petty Officer 3rd Class Hershel Snoody, a medic, arrived to find his expertise very welcome. "All six men appeared to be in need of attention for dehydration. They had been without water and were complaining of severe cramps in the legs," he said. "After further conversation I found one person had tried drinking salt water for survival."

Snoody treated the men with ice packs and intravenous fluids. Kotowski, Carr navigator, also assessed the seaworthiness of the vessel, finding it to be satisfactory before arranging for supplies to be brought on board. The crewmembers of the small craft were confused, but grateful.

"The six people on board at first really didn't know what to think of our aid. I don't believe that they ever thought that anyone would ever be so generous. We gave them 15 cases of bottled water, and so much food and other supplies that it filled a 20-by-20-foot area."

The sailors also provided the adrift men with a new motor, Kotowski said. "They were so grateful they kept on repeating, 'God Bless the United States, God bless your ship,'" he said.

Mount Whitney, is forward deployed to Gaeta, Italy, and is manned by a hybrid crew of U. S. sailors and Military Sealift Command civilian mariners. Carr, home-ported in Norfolk, Va., is currently assigned to U.S. 6th Fleet supporting the war on terror.

(Compiled from Naval Forces Europe and U.S. 6th Fleet news releases.)

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Naval Forces Europe and U.S. 6th Fleet

Click photo for screen-resolution imageA rigid-hull inflatable boat from the frigate USS Carr assists a distressed vessel off the coast of Sierra Leone, Africa, on Jan. 14. The vessel was spotted by lookouts from the 6th Fleet command and control ship USS Mount Whitney. Both ships were heading for waters off the coast of Monrovia, Liberia, to help commemorate the inauguration of newly elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Jan. 16. The small craft, with a crew of six men, had been at sea for 35 days and was without a working motor, food or water. Within two hours, crew members dispatched from USS Carr had the vessel moving under its own power and had replenished supplies with enough food and fuel to get the vessel back to land safely. U.S. Navy photo  
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