JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, Spain (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines from USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) volunteered at a monastery in Jerez De La Frontera during a port visit to Rota, Spain Jan. 17.
More than 30 volunteers went to the "La Cartuja" Our Lady of the Defense monastery and assisted with yard work and minor renovations to the chapel and living areas.
"These community relations (COMREL) projects keep the relationship between the Navy and the local Spanish community strong," said Lt. Rob Johnson, a chaplain assigned to Naval Station Rota. "The Spaniards really do appreciate everything we do around here; they know it's genuine. They know it's not something that we have to do, but that Sailors and Marines choose to do from the kindness of their hearts."
"I had a great time," said Sgt. Beth Grauer, a participant from the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). "It feels like we're actually doing something when we're out here. Deployment was long, but COMRELs really make me feel like we're helping."
The monastery, which was originally founded in the sixth century, houses 18 nuns and is the second most historic building in the Andalucia region. The chapel was reconstructed in 1490 after it had been conquered and destroyed twice before by foreign invaders.
"This was the biggest group of volunteers I've seen since I've been here," said Johnson. "Their motivation and work ethic is unmatched."
"The response for this COMREL was overwhelming," said Lt. Diego Londono, the 22nd MEU command chaplain. "We had way more volunteers than we had space for this. It's a great opportunity for our Sailors and Marines to work together and gain cohesion with each other and those we help."
Volunteers performed a range of outdoor jobs such as trimming hedges, pulling weeds and removing rocks from a field the nuns will later use to plant a garden. Mesa Verde Sailors and Marines also did heavier chores such as lifting, moving and organizing marble slabs and old stones, as well as cleaning, leveling and laying PVC piping for plumbing.
"It was great to be out here and really lend a hand to people that need it," said Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Christopher Blue. "It's important for us as Americans to help out and this is just another way to do it."
After the volunteers finished their work they were given a tour of the monastery, which included the original grounds, the chapel and ruins of the cells used by the early priests of the monastery. Tour escorts provided participants with stories about the historical significance of the area and church.
"The monastery was gorgeous," said Grauer. "I loved being out here and helping and the tour was more than worth the time we spent working here."
Mesa Verde is deployed as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and deployed from her homeport of Norfolk, Va., March 23. Mesa Verde has spent the past nine and a half months supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility, and is returning home after having been relieved by the Makin Island ARG.