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Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Conover of the 6th Fleet Band signs an autograph after a concert earlier this month for the community of Sao Tome, Sao Tome and Principe. The band is currently deployed with the USS Emory S. Land to the Gulf of Guinea.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Conover of the 6th Fleet Band signs an autograph after a concert earlier this month for the community of Sao Tome, Sao Tome and Principe. The band is currently deployed with the USS Emory S. Land to the Gulf of Guinea. (Samantha Stark / Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

The deployment of the La Maddalena, Italy-based USS Emory S. Land to Gabon is part of the U.S. European Command’s desire to increase security in the region by building partnerships with Gulf of Guinea nations and their militaries.

Visits by ships such as the Land are beneficial for all involved, not just EUCOM, said Land commander Capt. Michael D. Budney.

“The country benefits from our community relations projects, we help train their navy … and help repair their ships,” he said. “The crew benefits from their interactions with the Gabonese.”

While the stop at Port Gentil was a working port visit, Budney said, crew members did get some off-duty time.

Sailors working on various community relations projects in the area held a barbecue with Gabonese sailors and even found time to do some shopping.

“They love to haggle here,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Emily Summers of the ship’s repair department. “It’s something I’m not good at, so I pay way too much.”

Summers said that she was surprised by how well the Gabonese took to the sailors.

“I’m shocked how friendly they are — they’re more like ‘ambassadors’ to us,” she said, referring to the Navy’s informal policy that reminds sailors to be good “ambassadors” for the United States.

This is the first time the 20-year-old Griffin, Ga., native has been anywhere like Africa.

“I’m just a blue-eyed girl lost in the big city,” she said.

Lost or not, she does have an insight into what the Gabonese like — soccer.

She’s the only female member of the ship’s 20-player soccer team, and when the team played against sailors from the host navy they were surprised to see her on the field.

“The Gabonese thought it was funny to see a girl on the soccer team,” she said.

“They’re a tough bunch,” she added, saying the ship’s team lost the match 4-2.

But the team won in one area, she said. After the game, they passed out soccer balls to spectators. They also visited community relations projects to pass out more.

“It’s amazing to see our sailors interacting with the Gabonese,” wrote Naval Forces Europe spokesman Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Galvan, who accompanied the ship on its trip.

“They’re making new friends, which supports 6th Fleet’s commitment to strengthen emerging partners.”

The Gulf of Guinea’s “emerging partners” are also sitting on large reserves of oil.

Last week, Nigeria, also on the Gulf of Guinea, and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe — which Land visited earlier in the month — concluded a deal with three firms for further oil exploration in the region.

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