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USS Ronald Reagan sailors enjoy time off in Australia ahead of Talisman Sabre drills

Some USS Ronald Reagan sailors visited Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary during their brief port visit in Brisbane, Australia. The sanctuary offers unique interactions with native wildlife.

CAITLIN DOORNBOS/STARS AND STRIPES

By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 11, 2019

BRISBANE, Australia — Sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan are back at sea after wrapping up a port call in Australia, their first of 2019.

The aircraft carrier and its crew of 4,500 spent five days at the Port of Brisbane following a bumpy start. The 103,000-ton ship ran into a crane Friday as tug boats pulled it into port.

A section of the ship struck a crane on the pier, Task Force 70 spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight said Saturday. The incident caused minor damage to the Ronald Reagan and spilled hydraulic fluid on the pier. The cause of the incident, or allision, was under investigation, Knight said.

The damage included a bent railing, which was fixed before the carrier left Brisbane on Wednesday, according to the Navy.

The ship stopped in Brisbane to give its sailors a short break before joining in Talisman Sabre drills. The biennial exercise involves more than 34,000 U.S. and Australian military personnel, and 2019 marks its eighth iteration, according to a July 5 Navy statement.

Eager to stretch their land legs, sailors participated in community service, tourism and libations while in Brisbane.

Volunteer groups visited patients at Queensland Children’s Hospital and Mater Private Hospital Rehab and spent time at Queensland Maritime Museum and Queensland Museum and Science Centre, where they toured a NASA exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Knight said.

Some groups had distinctly Down Under experiences, spending time with local wildlife while helping with gardening, maintenance and food preparation at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and Daisy Hill Koala Conservation Park, Knight said.

Others planted “bush tucker” plants at Australian Catholic University, Knight said. The term describes foods native to Australia, such as mistletoe, bush coconut, eucalyptus and conkerberry, according to the Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery and Cultural Museum in Australia’s Northern Territory.

On their own, some sailors trekked farther into northeastern Australia, booking winery tours and rainforest hikes through New South Wales. Navy Morale, Welfare and Recreation also arranged golf sessions, desert safari tours, SCUBA diving and snorkeling opportunities and theme park visits.

In central Brisbane, sailors enjoyed nightlife in the city that met its visitors with open arms, lighting up its famed Story Bridge in red, white and blue.

Tourism Queensland Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind estimated the sailors spent about $700 each in Brisbane during their brief stay.

“Some hospitality businesses made an effort to promote their services specifically to the U.S. visitors, with creative names for drinks and menu items,” Gschwind said in an email. “Brisbane prides itself on its friendly and welcoming attitude to visitors and in relation to U.S. sailors.”

Many family and friends flew in from the U.S. and Japan to see their sailors for the first time since the ship left Yokosuka Naval Base on May 22. Other loved ones excitedly posted to social media over the weekend, bragging about receiving their first phone calls and videos from their servicemembers in nearly seven weeks.

Navy wife Lexi Rusk, who is four and ½ months pregnant, flew from Yokosuka to see her husband, Seaman Jered Rusk, a gunner’s mate. She said the visit was made special when she felt the baby’s first kick as her husband stood by.

“Perfect timing,” she said. “I enjoyed every single second [of Brisbane] and am beyond grateful I got to experience it with the one that I love.

Navy mom Michelle Stragier McCrave flew in from Virginia to surprise her daughter, Lt. Victoria McCrave, an EA-18G Growler co-pilot on the Ronald Reagan. She was joined by her husband, Michael McCrave, and other daughter, Brianne McCrave, as well as Victoria McCrave’s husband.

“I was a Navy wife. It’s harder being a [Navy] mom,” Stragier McCrave said.

On Wednesday, the family drove to a Sunshine Coast beach to see the carrier off. They bid farewell holding a 3-yard-long canvas sign that lightheartedly said, “familia del jefe” – Spanish for “family of the boss,” Stragier McCrave said.

“I got teary seeing the ship go out,” Stragier McCrave said. “Brianne said it was a very emotional moment.”

Talisman Sabre is expected to run through early August, with most training activities taking place through July 24, according to the Australian Department of Defence.

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

USS Ronald Reagan sailors visit a patient while spending a day off at Children's Health Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, July 6, 2019.
COURTESY OF U.S. CONSULATE GENERAL SYDNEY

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