Foster home children tour U.S. Navy's
newest combat ship

Helping Manzanillo children through Project Handclasp

There is no denying that the U.S.S. Independence is an amazing warship. What's more amazing is its incredible crew, and how the young men and women of the U.S. Navy generously donated their time to give some of Manzanillo's disadvantaged children an experience of a lifetime.

When the U.S.S. Independence arrived in Manzanillo in late April 2012, first on the agenda was a visit to the local orphanage/foster home named Liborio Espinosa Casa Hogar. This 40-bed facility currently houses 15 children ranging in age from 5 to 18. There have been times in years past where the facility has had up to 38 children.

The orphanage was founded 15 years ago by a priest, Father Jose Carlos, according to Director Claudia Ramos. It provides food, housing and education for children with no parents or parents who cannot provide for their children due to abuse by a family member, illness of a mother in a single parent household, alcohol or drug problems, or other situations.

Please click on photos to enlarge

Getting the job done
with a smile

Women can paint

Eighteen volunteers from the ship devoted their shore leave to painting the large comedor, or dining room at the Casa Hogar, bringing with them all the tools to get the job done. It was a 2-day project, made more difficult by the fact the volunteers had no primer (and were painting white over a dark yellow-brown), and the paint provided by another donor was not of the best quality. However, they cheerfully kept working and got the job done--albeit with 4 coats of white--but definitely an improvement over the old peeling paint.

The team effort was part of the U. S. Navy's Project Handclasp, the only program of its type in the U.S. armed forces. Handclasp is a people-to-people program that accepts and transports educational, humanitarian and goodwill material donated by America's private sector on a space-available basis aboard U.S. Navy ships for distribution to foreign nation recipients.

Bob does the finishing touches

The sailors affiliated with project Handclasp also brought hygiene and medical supplies, as well as stuffed animals, donated by Loving Hugs, Inc. to the children's facility.

Casa Hogar Director Ramos, who is as committed as any mother to her large brood of children, said, "These people are wonderful. We would have a lot more problems here if we didn't have people like this who are generous and giving of themselves, their time and money." The foster home is totally dependent on volunteers and donations to survive. It receives no funding from any government organization.

According to Susan Dearing, owner of, during 2 months of e-mail correspondence with Independence Information Systems Technician 1st Class Gina Myers, Project Handclasp was looking for an orphanage to help. Myers, who helped organize the community service project, was informed through Ms. Dearing that Liborio Espinosa was the most under funded and neediest children's facility in Manzanillo.

"This is Independence's first port visit to a foreign country, so it's a fantastic opportunity for us to get out and interact with the locals," Myers said.

Last call for the baņo

Getting in Juan Navarro's van

On the final day the ship was in port, a tour was arranged with the help of Susan Dearing and the "guardian angel" of Manzanillo, Roberto Soberano. Soberano has two radio talk shows each day, where people call in about problems or issues, and he goes out and finds answers, usually solving the problem. He also writes a column in the newspaper,  El Noticiero, about current issues and events.

Arrival at the dock

U.S.S. Independence

Lining up to board

Length: 418 ft. (127.4 mt.)

The 15 children of Liborio Espinosa had the opportunity to go where no child of Manzanillo has gone before--aboard a U.S. warship!

The children, wearing their 15th Anniversary Liborio Espinosa T-shirts, were welcomed by a crew member, and then given instructions on how to walk from the dock to the gangplank. As they lined up to enter the ship, you could see and feel their excitement and anticipation.

Inside the helicopter hangar

The U.S. Navy's newest

The U.S.S. Independence LCS (Littoral Combat Ship)--a scary-Star Wars-type-looking ship--was docked at the Manzanillo's new cruise ship pier, with the 40-person crew eagerly awaiting the little ones from the orphanage. (Director Ramos allowed the children to "play hooky" from school for an hour-and-a-half for this special tour of the ship.)

For the uninitiated, a littoral combat ship (LCS) is a type of relatively small surface vessel intended for operations in the littoral zone (close to shore). It is a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and counterinsurgency threats (such as the Somalian pirates) in shallow waters.

An LCS ship such as the Independence, has the capabilities of a small assault transport with a flight deck and hangar large enough to base two SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, the capability to recover and launch small boats from a stern ramp, and enough cargo volume and payload to deliver a small assault force with armored fighting vehicles to a roll-on/roll-off dock.

 The standard armament for the LCS are Mk 110 57mm guns and Rolling Airframe Missiles. It is also able to launch autonomous air, surface and underwater vehicles. The LCS concept emphasizes speed (50 knots; 60 mph; 100 kph), flexible mission module space, a shallow draft (14 ft, 4.5 mt.), and "stealth-like" design for a lower radar profile.

The ship is easy to reconfigure for different roles, including anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, homeland defense, maritime intercept, special operations, and logistics. Due to its modular design, the LCS will be able to replace slower, more specialized ships such as minesweepers and larger assault ships.


57 mm gun on bow

Mission bay

No photos of this, please

View of ZLO from the bridge

Inside the bridge

Steering with a joystick

Crossing the threshold into the helicopter hangar seaman Rivera explained the purposes and other details of the huge structure. The interior volume and payload of the Independence is greater than some destroyers and is sufficient to serve as a high-speed transport and maneuver platform. The mission bay is 15,200 square feet (1,410 m2), and takes up most of the deck below the hangar and flight deck.

In addition to cargo or container-sized mission modules, the bay can carry four lanes of Stryker armored tanks, armored Humvees, and their associated troops. An elevator allows air transport of packages the size of a 20-foot-long (6.1 m) shipping container that can be moved into the mission bay while at sea. A side access ramp allows for vehicle roll-on/roll-off loading to a dock and allows the ship to transport the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.


Group together on flight deck

The tour group was walked through the corridors, past the sleeping dorms, and into the galley with comfortable seating, a book library, and internet modules "for the crew when they are not on duty." The odors emanating from the kitchen smelled delicious, and the sailor-chef on duty claimed "It's the best food in the world"! Feeding a crew of 40, plus another 21 when they are on a mission, is hard work, and takes some really huge equipment in a relatively small, yet efficient kitchen.

M240 machine gun on deck

7,300 sq. ft. flight deck

As everyone walked up and down steps, through door locks and down corridors, all thankfully air-conditioned, the group of 26 began to see what living on a U.S. Navy vessel was all about. The young sailors were exceedingly cheerful and accommodating, making sure the children walked carefully, used the handrails and stayed safe. The children, not surprisingly, were very well behaved, and followed instructions to the letter.

Going up approximately 4 stories to the bridge, the view of downtown Manzanillo from the 180-degree arch of windows was spectacular. The helm is controlled by joysticks instead of traditional steering wheels, and has an Interior Communications Center that can be curtained off from the rest of bridge.

The Independence uses the Integrated Combat Management System (ICMS). ICMS is designed for use in maritime patrol, coastal surveillance, and search and rescue.
A network of workstations, ICMS ties together a ship's key subsystems to give commanders a single mechanism for managing their resources.

ICMS provides: real-time fusion of multiple radar, IFF, standard US and NATO tactical datalinks, with environmental navigation charts, radar video and TV video displays; integration with fire-control systems; real-time, in-situ active and passive sonar performance; full integration with internal and external communication systems; IR and TV video distribution; integration with watch on integrated bridge systems; integration with helicopter landing system; and data recording and mission reproduction. Certain areas of the bridge were off-limit to photos.

American flag waves
on flight deck

Soldier Robert Archuleta & "LSO" from the Casa Hogar

The outing ended on the flight deck, where the American flag proudly flew in Manzanillo's gentle breezes.

One of the children was allowed to become the ship's LSO (landing signal officer), "guiding" a make-believe helicopter in for a landing. All young eyes were on the Liborio Espinosa LSO, complete with vest, helmet, ear-protectors, goggles, and light batons.

Missile canisters

7.62 caliber; range 1,100 m

Walking around the exterior of the ship, which is a dark, dull gray, not unlike the finish on a B-2 "Stealth" bomber, you could see the missile canisters (used only for defense, according to Rivera), and a mounted machine gun on the port side, which fascinated everyone. Though a few of the soldiers were armed and on duty, they were cordial and relaxed with the group of children around them.

Dir. Ramos with the M-240

Leaving  the Independence

Finally, the 1-1/2 tour came to an end, to the extreme satisfaction to all who were lucky enough to come on board and see one of the newest combat ships in the U.S. Navy.

A SPECIAL THANKS  to the crew of the Independence for their hospitality, from the kids and staff of the Casa Hogar, Susan Dearing, and Roberto Soberano, and hats off to BMC Robert Archuleta and  IST Gina Davis of Project Handclasp for helping to give the children a dream come true, and make their home at the Casa Hogar a little better and brighter. Certificates of appreciation were presented to the captain and crew of the U.S.S. Independence (photo, right). Thanks also to Juan Navarro, who drove the children in his 15-passenger van to the dock and back home.

If you'd like to help the children of the orphanage, contact Susan.