"USS NASSAU Choir Become Good Will Ambassadors Overseas"

Approved for Release by Sixth Fleet Public Affairs Office

By JOC Michael G. Frost 

Since the general purpose amphibious assault ship USS NASSAU (LHA4) has been deployed in the Mediterranean, crewmembers have visited several scenic ports of call and meet many interesting people. One group of exceptional NASSAU Sailors and Marines have joined together to share their faith and promote good will during each port visit.

Sailors and Marines of USS NASSAUís Gospel Choir began performing in churches and schools while the ship was in Valletta, Malta, in mid-January, and have performed at events in each port since then.

While the ship visited Toulon, France, recently, the Gospel Choir traveled to three different sites in the city to perform: Notre Dame High School on Thursday, 8 February, St. Flavian Roman Catholic Church, on Sunday, 11 February and Mary Francis High School on Tuesday, 13 February. In addition, the choir also joined with the choir from USS EMORY S. LAND to perform on board USS NASSAU on Sunday, 11 February in a special concert dubbed "Spiritfest." 

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During their most recent performance at Mary Francis High School they performed for students at the school. Directed by Lt. Cmdr. Darryl Person, Chaplain for Marine Expeditionary Unit 22 embarked on board USS NASSAU, the choir performed several gospel numbers for the students, singing on a small stage accompanied by musicians from the group on keyboard and drums.

 The group actually performed three different concerts of three or four hymns as new groups of students arrived in the small auditorium. Many of the students spoke little English but the choir was able to communicate their message with their enthusiasm and their music. The students were quiet at first, because they didnít know what to expect, but they began to laugh and clap in time to the music after the choir began their first piece.

In between each concert, the group met with the students. Although none of the choir spoke French and many of the students spoke only a little English, both groups enjoyed trying to communicate.

The choir concerts provide many benefits for both the Sailors and Marines and the local communities.

"One benefit is that the community gets to see that the Sailors and Marines have other interests, other than the military," said Capt. Gerry Mauer, USS NASSAUís Commanding Officer. "I attended one performance. It was very upbeat. It was a very conservative church and someone commented to me afterward that they had never seen such a lively performance in church.

"The performances benefit the Navy by getting Sailors and Marines out there to show the uniform," Capt. Mauer said. "The more you get into the community the more that people get to see that we are people just like them." 

"The concerts allow USS NASSAUís Sailors and Marines the opportunity to interact with the community." Lt. Cmdr. Person said. "It gives them a chance to make new friends."

The choir performances are coordinated by USS NASSAUís Command Chaplain, Cmdr. Michael L. Schutz.

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As choir coordinator, Chaplain Schutz establishes points of contact via E-mail in each community the shipís visit prior to the shipís arrival and sets up performances at local schools and churches. He also provides logistical support such as arranging bus transportation for the choir.

"The choir performances promote good will and establish relationships with the foreign  countries we visit." Schutz said. "It allows Sailors and Marines to have a cross cultural experience within each community. Itís a win/win situation for the Navy, Marine Corps, the United States and the local communities."

Performing in the choir in the local community is a rewarding experience for the crewmembers.

Gunnery Sgt. A. Earl Ashford, of Marine Medium Helicopter Squardon-162, has performed with the choir in each of the ports since they first performed in Malta.

"The performance at the Catholic Cathedral in Palma, Mallorca, was quite an experience," Ashford said. "We sang during Sunday morning Mass.

"The following Saturday night we performed at a small Catholic church, which was the most memorable performance we have done. It was the first time I saw the effect of singing the Gospel the way we present it," Ashford said. "People were smiling. They were clapping. It lifted their spirits. It has happened each time we have performed since then.. As people came into Mass they were somber. When they left they were smiling."

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Petty Officer 1st Class Sandra Billups, assigned to Tactical Air Control Squadron 21, has also performed with the choir.

"I joined the choir because I have sang with choirs in church all my life," Billups said. "At the time I didnít know that the choir went out into the community to perform. It was an extra benefit.

We get to see the community in a different way. When we perform, we are welcomed like we are entering someoneís home. The people greet us and talk to us. We really get to experience the true community, not like when you go on a tour and are treated like a tourist.

"I like to do it because it gives them a positive view of Americans," she said. "We are ambassadors. "

Plans are for the choir to continue performing in other ports USS NASSAU visits throughout the cruise. The choir also sings each Sunday for the Protestant services.