US, Chilean Navies strengthen partnerships

A Sailor assigned to amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) swapped places with sailors from Chilean frigate CNS Almirante Cochrane (FF 05) as the ships headed west to Hawaii for the 2016 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, June 23.

Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Raul Afanador spent the day aboard Cochrane observing shipboard evolutions, experiencing life at sea on a foreign navy ship and building positive international relations.

“I think the purpose was to interact with them, learn how they do business on their ship and possibly take something back to our ship that could help us do our jobs better,” said Afanador. “In return, maybe they can learn from us and incorporate some of our ideas into their daily schedule. It makes both of us better in the end.”

Upon his arrival aboard Cochrane, the ship’s executive officer and command master chief greeted Afanador and paired him with a running mate for his time aboard. Afanador received a tour of the ship and met most of the 185-person crew.

“The ship and her crew were very impressive, and I noticed that there are many similarities between our navies, from the watches we stand to our customs and courtesies,” said Afanador. “The sailors on this ship were very tight knit, almost like a family. It was great for me to be able to interact and communicate with the Chilean navy to help build our relations.”

While Afanador visited Cochrane, Chilean navy cabo primeros Manuel Olivares and Ed Aguayo embarked America and spent time touring the ship and meeting the crew. The rank of cabo primero is equivalent to a U.S. Navy petty officer first class.

“It was interesting how diverse the [U.S.] Navy is and how the routines differ,” said Olivares. “In our ships there are only Chileans. The interaction between the cultures [on USS America] makes it entertaining and at the same time beautiful to see the different cultures in one space.”

Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Tiago Campos volunteered to escort the Chilean sailors around America. He talked to them about the Navy and the ship, but said he was also eager to learn from them about how their navy functions.

“I believe experiences like these are beneficial to both navies,” Campos said. “They get to see what we do, and I got to see what they do and get a perspective on a navy I didn’t know much about.”

Afanador’s running mate, Chilean navy Corp. Damilo Benitez, used the opportunity to learn more about how the U.S. Navy operates and to practice his English in preparation for the ship’s upcoming port visit to Pearl Harbor.

“For me, it was a very good opportunity to learn more about [the English] language,” said Benitez. “This allowed us to get to know each other and to show off our capabilities and what we bring to the table on a global scale. I feel honored to be a part of this.”

Cochrane Master Chief Petty Officer Jose Cepeda said he believes the visit allowed his crew to exchange opinions and perceptions with a sailor from another navy.

“It is part of the essence of every man and woman on board, to learn and gain new experiences,” said Cepeda. “For the Chilean navy it is very important to integrate with other navies, especially during these types of exercises. We plan on hosting more sailors on our ship from various countries so we can continue to learn.”

Afanador said he departed the ship the following day with a new understanding of the importance of maintaining international relations, a new respect for the Chilean navy and most importantly, new friends.

“I would like to thank the sailors aboard the Cochrane for their hospitality,” said Afanador. “I look forward to seeing my new friends in Hawaii and hopefully seeing these sailors again outside of the uniforms.”

Olivares spoke highly of his visit with America and said the crew was very professional.

“Every person in charge takes ownership of what they do, and we noticed we are not too different because we both make our ship our home; we have to take care of it,” said Olivares.

Twenty-six nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 30 to Aug. 4, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2016 is the 25th exercise in the series that began in 1971.