Constanta, Romania - The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) welcomed aboard U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during a scheduled port visit to Constanta, Romania, today.

Vella Gulf's presence in Romania reaffirms the United States' commitment to strengthening ties with NATO allies and partners, while working toward mutual goals of promoting peace and stability in the region, something Hagel touched on while on board the ship.

"I want to thank all of you, especially with what you're doing on this mission particularly," said Hagel while speaking to Sailors on the ship's 1MC. "As we partner with Romania and the rest of our NATO allies, I want all of you to know that I am proud of you, and the President of the United States is proud of you."

Upon arrival, Hagel was greeted by Vella Gulf's Commanding Officer Capt. Robert Katz. He was then given a tour of the ship, including the navigation bridge and combat information center.

"It was a distinct pleasure and honor for Vella Gulf's officers and crew to have had the opportunity to host the Secretary of Defense onboard the ship," said Katz. "He reaffirmed to the entire crew the importance of our forward deployed mission and the positive impact we're having out here."

During the visit, Hagel ate lunch with Sailors from his home state of Nebraska on the ship's mess decks. Quartermaster Seaman Joshua Studeny, a Nebraskan native, said it was honor to meet the Secretary of Defense.

"Sitting down in the mess decks to eat lunch with the Secretary of Defense was definitely a surreal experience," said Studeny. "I've been aboard Vella Gulf for two years and Secretary Hagel is the highest ranking person to come aboard. It was really a huge honor to have him visit our ship."

Vella Gulf, homeported in Norfolk, Va., is deployed in a multi-mission role in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations to contribute to regional maritime security, conduct bilateral and multilateral training missions, and to support NATO operations and deployments throughout the region.

U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts a full range of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation missions in concert with coalition, joint, interagency, and other partners in order to advance security and stability in Europe and Africa.