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Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic

USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) Sailors Volunteer in Crete, Greece

by Petty Officer 2nd Class Delaney Jensen, U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay
09 February 2023

The first COMREL included work at the Souda Shelter Project, a local dog shelter, building dog beds out of wooden pallets, socializing with the dogs and ridding the area of overgrown weeds on Feb. 4.

“I think it’s great to have COMRELS because we can continue to build relationships and foster partnerships through community engagement,” said Operations Specialist 1st Class Heather Karel. “It feels good to know that our help is going to a good place. I have a dog myself, so it really brought that warm-fuzzy feeling of being back at home.”

The Souda Shelter Project is an animal welfare facility that currently houses over 90 abandoned or stray dogs, taking care of them until they are found homes around the world.

“It is a big joy for me to host volunteer programs like this for our service members,” said Souda Shelter Project Administrator Elizabeth Iliakis. “Having them here so they can decompress and get away from everything else outside is the best, and they have been very productive for us. This is hard work that would take us a couple of weeks to complete, but they can do it in just a few hours. It’s a win-win situation for everyone – including the dogs!”

For the second COMREL, USS Leyte Gulf Sailors braved the cold and rain to pick oranges at an organic orange grove and donated them to the Chania Municipality Community Support Market an establishment that helps community members in need of assistance, on Feb. 6.

“It reminds me of what generous souls Americans can have,” said Orange Grove Owner Mary Olsen. “They are collecting some for themselves, but multiply the number they collect for themselves by 10 and that is how many they will be donating to the locals in need. That’s really America at its best. Watching this happen as it rains – well their enthusiasm is not dampened, so to speak.”

In total, 20 USS Leyte Gulf Sailors participated in the two COMRELS strengthening the positive relationship between the people of Crete, Greece, and our U.S. Navy Sailors.

“This is a great experience for our Sailors,” said Lt. Chris Terrell, chaplain, USS Leyte Gulf. “I really have a lot of appreciation for NSA Souda Bay for working with us to put these two opportunities together. This continues the really positive trend that we have had on this deployment as we have gotten to pull into ports. It started with Souda Bay with a beach cleanup and it has just gotten better and better. It gives our Sailors a great way to feel more embedded in the communities we visit.”

Leyte Gulf, homeported in Norfolk, is attached to the USS George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike group (CSG) and is operating in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations as part of a scheduled deployment.

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