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The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex successfully completed exercise Cobra Gold 2010 (CG 10) Feb. 11 operating in the Gulf of Thailand and surrounding waters.
Throughout the exercise, Essex Sailors and Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) worked alongside forces of the Kingdom of Thailand, Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and Japan to enhance multinational interoperability in the Pacific region.
"Multinational exercises like Cobra Gold are invaluable," said Capt. Donald Schmieley, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11. "We take advantage of every opportunity to work with multinational partners. As we've seen in recent history, the U.S. may not respond alone to crises around the world, whether it's in the form of humanitarian assistance or another crisis. More than likely, it will be a coalition, and Cobra Gold provides an outstanding environment to practice that."
CG 10 included a command post exercise, field-training exercise and humanitarian civil affairs projects. Essex Sailors and 31st MEU Marines also demonstrated their ability to conduct multinational amphibious operations with partner nations throughout the exercise.
"Our Sailors performed magnificently," said Capt. Troy Hart, Essex's commanding officer. "The exercise was very complex and challenging, and it required a lot of flexibility and professionalism from everyone, but we overcame some challenges and met every mission requirement. Team Essex had a great exercise that we can be proud of."
On Feb. 4, Essex participated in the largest event of CG 10, a multinational simulated amphibious assault featuring combined U.S., Thai, and South Korean assets, including more than 30 landing craft and hundreds of Marines from all three countries. The combined assault required extensive planning and coordination between participating nations, said Lt. Col. Stuart Lockhart, 31st MEU executive officer.
"It's pretty significant. You have to have personnel that have a professional outlook and a similar philosophy when it comes to training and safety, find a common ground and pull your efforts together," said Lockhart. "Tactically, not only does everyone need to understand the timeline, but they need to validate it with command and control in order to control what is happening during the assault."
Not only did the simulated assault require cooperation at the command level, but at all levels of the chain of command, including those responsible for execution. Long before Marines charged up the beach, Sailors were at work on the flight deck and in the well deck of Essex, where many of the aircraft, vehicles and personnel began their journey ashore.
"We wanted to make sure to put forth our best effort," said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) (AW/SW) Chris Brunson, who helped supervise flight deck operations during the assault. "It can be difficult when you have different packages of aircraft taking off at different times. For us, the biggest challenge is making sure the right aircraft are taking off at the right time to accomplish their mission."
In the well deck, Sailors of Essex's deck department worked to launch and recover landing craft utility vehicles loaded with Marine reconnaissance and infantry. Despite the high tempo of the exercise, at least one of those Sailors found it to be a valuable learning experience.
"The more practice we do, the better we get. It becomes muscle memory through repetition," said Seaman Rudy Segura, of Jacksonville, Fla., who was participating in his first exercise since reporting to Essex last month. "It's also pretty rewarding to know that you're taking part in something like this."
Portions of CG 10 also focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. On Feb. 6, Essex participated in a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) exercise featuring more than 80 Essex Sailors and 30 Marines from the 31st MEU role-playing as civilian evacuees. The exercise was designed to practice evacuating non-combatants during humanitarian relief operations.
"Essex's mission is to be ready to properly and safely receive any evacuees during a crisis," said Lt. Denver Robb, NEO coordinator. "Especially with the Haiti earthquake that just happened, it goes to show that these NEO drills help the Navy prepare for situations that may require us to give help to people in time of need."
CG 10 served as a great opportunity for Essex Sailors and 31st MEU Marines to hone their skills and become better prepared for real scenarios, especially for those who have not participated in a major exercise before, said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Airman Recruit Ryan Elkins, of Murfreesboro, Ill.
"Every bit of training we do, no matter what condition, prepares us for anything unexpected," said Elkins.
CG 10 is an annual joint/coalition multinational exercise and is the latest in the continuing series of U.S.-Thai military exercises designed to ensure regional peace and stability. This year marks the 177th year of U.S.-Thai relations.
Essex, commanded by Capt. Troy Hart, is part of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group and is conducting its spring patrol in the Western Pacific.