SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia (Dec. 19, 2011) Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Latoya Farrish, assigned to USS New Orleans (LPD 18), greets a Cambodian child during a community outreach project at the School of Public Health and Social Work of St. Elizabeth. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro)

GULF OF THAILAND - The amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) and the amphibious transport dock USS New Orleans (LPD 18), along with embarked Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), got underway Dec. 19 following completion of Marine Exercise 2012 (MAREX 12) in Cambodia.

MAREX 12 took place Dec. 12-18 and was designed as a theater security cooperation mission to enhance professional relationships and interoperability between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF).

Pearl Harbor and New Orleans conducted amphibious operations for MAREX 12 near Sihanoukville, Cambodia. A major element of the exercise also took place at the Peace Keeping Operations Training Center located west of Phnom Penh.

"After our advance party reported that our Cambodian counterparts were interested in learning about our basic patrol techniques as well as our experiences in Afghanistan, we developed a schedule of classes, practical applications and exercises to share our knowledge," said Capt. Michael J. Balich, company commander of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion 1st Marine Regiment.

Balich said a small element from the battalion spent three days learning from the RCAF in the jungle at a local army training center.

"Our Marines learned about jungle survival and movement techniques from the Cambodian soldiers," said Balich. "This was another highly valuable exercise that resulted in great reviews from the participants."

Staff Sgt. Ildifonzo Corral, a platoon sergeant for Kilo Company, 1st Platoon, said he helped train members of the Cambodian Armed Forces in a variety of skills, including basic patrolling skills and fixed-site security.

Corral said the Cambodian soldiers picked up the lessons quickly and were eager to learn.

"They are an extremely disciplined force," said Corral. "When it came to simple things like weapons handling and taking notes, they were really attentive to all the fine details."

Sgt. Mark Encarnacion, 2nd Platoon Squad Leader, said the level of perfection the Cambodians strived for was impressive.

"They're really driven," said Encarnacion. "I'd try and tell them that they did a good job, but they'd get mad. They wanted to hear what they did wrong, not what they did right.

Pearl Harbor and New Orleans deployed Nov. 14 in support of the Navy's Maritime Strategy and are currently conducting theater security cooperation missions in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR).

Pearl Harbor, New Orleans and the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), along with the embarked 11th MEU, make up the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).

The mission of the Makin Island ARG is to help provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas and provide humanitarian/disaster response as well as supporting the Navy's Maritime Strategy when forward deployed.

The 7th Fleet AOR includes more than 52 million square miles of the Pacific and Indian oceans, stretching from the international date line to the east coast of Africa, and from the Kuril Islands in the north to the Antarctic in the south.

More than half of the world's population lives within the 7th Fleet AOR. In addition, more than 80 percent of that population lives within 500 miles of the oceans, which means this is an inherently maritime region.