CHIANG MAI, Thailand - The opening ceremony for Exercise Cobra Gold 2011 in Chiang Mai Feb. 7, 2011 highlighted the multinational nature of the exercise as well as the many benefits that occur when partner nations train together and look for effective solutions to common challenges.

This is the first year Malaysian troops will join the armed forces of Thailand, Republic of Singapore, Japan, Republic of Indonesia, Republic of Korea and the U.S. for this exercise, the largest multinational exercise in the world, said Judith B. Cefkin, the U.S. deputy chief of mission, U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Thailand, during her remarks at the ceremony.

“This is a significant event. Cobra Gold is truly an international exercise,” said Thai Lt. Gen. Surapun Wongthai, exercise director, during his opening remarks.

This year’s exercise has brought 24 nations together, Wongthai added. In addition to the participating nations, observing nations include the State of Brunei, People’s Republic of China, Republic of India, Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic, Kingdom of the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russian Federation and Republic of South Africa.

Several additional nations are also participating in the Multinational Planning Augmentation Team working in conjunction with Cobra Gold events.

Nearly 13,000 military personnel, about 7,300 of them American troops, will participate this year.

“Cobra Gold is much more than an exercise; it is a major contributor to regional security,” said Lt. Gen. Kenneth J. Glueck Jr., exercise deputy commander and commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force.

Glueck attributed the success of past multinational humanitarian efforts such as the response to the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami in the Indian Ocean to lessons learned during Cobra Gold exercises.

In the tsunami, “over 230 were killed, over 125,000 were injured, 45,000 missing and 1.7 million were displaced,” Glueck said

In less than four days, a coalition task force headquarters was being established “in Utapao to direct the regional response to this crisis. This could only be accomplished through the results of previous Cobra Gold exercises and the relationships established,” he said.

Over the years, Cobra Gold has grown from the partnership between the United States and Thailand and expanded to include other nations in the region, said Cefkin.

Thailand and the U.S. have a history of cooperation.

The signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce March 20, 1833, formalized the two countries’ relationship and makes Thailand the U.S.’s oldest ally in Asia. Thailand is one of five major non-NATO treaty allies the U.S. has in the region.

The exercise today strengthens military-to-military cooperation and better prepares participating militaries to respond to future crisis, according to Thai Gen. Piroon Paewpolsong, Royal Thai Armed Forces deputy chief of defense forces.

Cobra Gold 2011 will consist of three main components: a staff exercise, field training exercise events and numerous humanitarian and civic assistance projects throughout Thailand.

For the first time, the staff exercise will have a single headquarters element, thereby ensuring participating nations are equal partners throughout the staff exercise’s future operations planning, said Cefkin.

Field training exercise events will include a multination amphibious assault Feb. 10, 2011, in which Thai, Korean and U.S. will participate. Live-fire exercises and other training events are also scheduled to take place.

There are 17 humanitarian assistance projects, eight engineering projects and nine medical visits scheduled for remote locations throughout Thailand, which will improve the quality if life in these areas, Cefkin said. These visits also allow troops to hone military skills needed for future humanitarian assistance deployments, she said.

The first of the engineering projects began Jan. 17, 2011, at Pa Ka Mai School in Tak province where U.S. Navy Seabees and Thai Army engineers are building a new school building. The building is scheduled to be completed Feb. 20, 2011.

The first medical civic assistance program visit took place at Don Maung Rae School in Chanthaburi Feb. 5, 2011, where doctors, dentists and veterinarians treated their respective patients.

“Cobra Gold 11 is far more than an exercise; it is truly a dress rehearsal for future responses,” Glueck said.

Cobra Gold, set to end Feb. 18, is a regularly scheduled, annual training exercise.

For more information and photographs about Cobra Gold 2011, visit www.marines.mil/cobragold2011 or www.facebook.com/exercisecobragold.