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Two years ago, U.S. ships poised off the Liberian coast were there to quell unrest in the nation’s war-torn capital of Monrovia. On Monday, they’ll be there for a celebration.

About 500 sailors and mariners from the Gaeta, Italy-based USS Mount Whitney, the flagship for the Navy’s 6th Fleet, and the Norfolk-Va.-based frigate USS Carr, will be on hand to commemorate the inauguration of democratically elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 6th Fleet spokesman Lt. Chris Servello said in a phone interview from the Mount Whitney.

“The presence of these ships is a demonstration of the strong support the U.S. has for Liberia’s recent elections, and is symbolic of the continued commitment to supporting nascent democracies around the globe as they make the transition from war to peace,” Servello said. “The two ships … are part of the U.S. government’s recognition and celebration of the inauguration of the new democratically elected president of Liberia.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class La Vida Boone, 24, remembers well the turmoil that besieged the African country in August 2003 and the deployment of U.S. Marines to restore peace when warlord and former President Charles Taylor stepped down from power and sought asylum in Nigeria.

“And now, we’re going to be part of a historical event,” said the Whitney-based barber and bulk storeroom operator.

Liberia, founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century, has been in turmoil for more than a decade, as years of war, civil unrest and poverty have plagued the West African nation.

Officials are not anticipating trouble during Monday’s inauguration. The U.S. military presence, instead, dovetails with the overall security initiative of the U.S. European Command, which for several years has conducted operations and training missions with militaries in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.

What a difference a few years make, said Air Force Lt. Col. Derek Kaufman, a EUCOM spokesman.

“The last time U.S. ships were [off] the coast of Monrovia was in 2003, and we set up a joint task force to help stabilize the nation for humanitarian relief efforts. … Now we’re there to commemorate an inauguration,” he said.

U.S. forces have helped militaries in the oil-rich region with activities such as creating peacekeeping forces, training of African troops to combat terrorists and starting AIDS prevention programs.


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