Bright sun, cool breeze, blue sky and 567 feet of cold, gray steel: the USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) cut an impressive profile on the Malibu horizon this weekend as it anchored near the Malibu Pier for the second-ever Malibu Navy Days. 

The ship’s visit brought 350 U.S. Navy sailors to Malibu over the three days the active-duty guided missile cruiser was anchored in town, with hundreds on shore to attend local celebrations and spend a day volunteering for fire relief efforts. 

“Our home port is San Diego, California, so we consider the members of Malibu and LA County as a whole as our neighbors to the north,” Lake Champlain Captain Jen Ellinger said in statements during the ship’s welcome on Friday afternoon. “We talked about the devastation this community has gone through, between wildfires and also mudslides, and I will tell you, it’s nice to see the faces of the people that we’ve been holding in our prayers and our thoughts these many months. You have been an inspiration to everyone in Southern California for your resiliency, coming together as a community. Much like our warship, we cannot do it alone. We rely on everybody.”

Part of that coming together involved dozens of sailors heading to Malibu Canyon on Saturday to take part in relief efforts at the local Salvation Army camp. 

“Although the Woolsey fires, which burned down the Camp Wilderness section of The Salvation Army’s campgrounds, have been extinguished for months, signs of their destruction still remain,” information from the camp stated. “Recent rains have also caused mud to fill crucial ditches and spread debris. The Navy volunteers, serving on the USS Lake Champlain, will be working on tasks such as clearing debris, cutting burned brush and filling sandbags.”

Malibu Navy League supporter Mari Stanley described the sailors’ efforts during comments at the Monday, Feb. 25, Malibu City Council meeting.

“I was able to hear a lot of comments from the crew that were truly heartfelt and they enjoyed so much being here, having the embrace of the community and, specifically, having the opportunity to spend an entire day on work crew efforts in assistance for rebuilding and fire recovery,” Stanley said. “Many of the crew members themselves have contacts either to Malibu specifically or in the surrounding area, including students at Pepperdine. These people had a real heartfelt feeling for it and, as the captain herself mentioned, they have been nagging and nagging to get here to do something.”

Other events included a sailors’ brunch on Sunday hosted by local developer Norm Haynie, VIP and media tours of the ship, and a captain’s reception, hosted by Malibu Navy League President John Payne and his wife, Anne. 

The much-anticipated visit from the Lake Champlain was the second time the ship planned to anchor in Malibu, with the last visit, scheduled for 2017, canceled at the last minute. The first Malibu Navy Days was back in 2011, when the USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) anchored off the pier. 

The few civilians permitted to tour the ship had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness a Navy cruiser up-close, with various crew members—including pilots, rescue divers, engineers and specialists—describing their roles onboard. The ship came equipped with two “foldable” helicopters and a team of pilots, in addition to the sailors aboard. The arms onboard included five-inch guns, vertical launch systems for missiles, machine guns and torpedos. The Lake Champlain also has the capability of pulping paper, shredding glass and metal waste, and compacting plastic, as well as converting seawater to potable drinking water. The ship has internet for sailors to use at sea and functions like a small city, those onboard explained.

The Lake Champlain began its weekend in Malibu after a deployment of five months in the South China Sea, followed by two weeks training with the Peruvian and Chilean navies. By Monday, the Lake Champlain had once again returned out to sea. 

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