Manila, Philippines - U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) departed Manila after a four-day port visit.

During the visit, crew members, Sailors from embarked 7th Fleet, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12, and Marines from Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team Pacific participated in several military-to-military exchanges with Republic of Philippines Navy (RPN), which included guided ship tours, a friendly sports competition, and a reception hosted by RPN.

"The reception was a great opportunity to reinforce our partnership with the Philippine navy," said Senior Chief Electronics Technician Darin Vazquez. "These engagements are important for our respective militaries, because we're partners with the same interests in this part of the world."

Sailors from Blue Ridge and RPN competed in friendly basketball and soccer games. Blue Ridge has a longstanding tradition of engaging in sporting events with host-nation military members.

"Our soccer match with the Philippine navy was the highlight of this port visit for me," said Cryptologic Technician (Technical) 2nd Class Christopher Dugas. "Both of our navies are very passionate about sports, and the sportsmanship and camaraderie we shared with the Philippine players made for a very enjoyable game."

Many Sailors, who were born and raised in the Philippines, had the opportunity to take leave and see family and relatives in the area.

"I took leave to go visit my aunt, uncle and cousins, whom I hadn't seen in eight years," said Machinist's Mate 1st Class (SW) Michael Balitaan. "Needless to say, they were thrilled to see me, having been away from them for so long."

Blue Ridge port visits presents opportunities to promote peace and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and demonstrate commitments to regional partners.

Blue Ridge has been forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan for 34 years. As the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Robert L. Thomas, Blue Ridge is vital in maintaining partnerships in the 7th Fleet area of operations.