Aviation Boatswain's Mates (Handling) direct an AH-1W Cobra helicopter, left, assigned to the Flying Tigers of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 262 and an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25 during takeoff Sept. 13 from the flight deck aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) during a certification exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Russell)

PACIFIC OCEAN - Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), along with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), completed a certification exercise (CERTEX) Sept. 24.

The two-week exercise took place from Sept. 10-24 focusing on the Bonhomme Richard ARG and 31st MEU's capabilities of doing certain missions such as humanitarian assistance and non-combatant evacuation operations.

Bonhomme Richard ARG is comprised of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), which serves as the command ship for Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11, as well as the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and amphibious transport dock USS Denver (LPD 9).

"A MEU's certification exercise (CERTEX) is the Marine Corps' 'stamp of approval' that the unit is qualified for employment as a global response force," said Lt. Col. Brian Hawkins, operations officer, 31st MEU. "It means that the MEU has demonstrated required proficiency in its core, mission-essential tasks. In order to do this, all elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) must work seamlessly."

Many scenarios were presented to the 31st MEU and the ARG, in which they had a time limit to provide a plan and then execute the mission. The evolutions included small boat raids, helicopter and amphibious raids and mass casualty response drills.

"Many challenges were presented during this exercise involving logistical ship to shore movement and daily planning and coordination of operations," said Lt. Cmdr. Jeremiah Bautista, operations officer for PHIBRON 11. "After completing this exercise, I am confident that this Blue-Green team is ready to take on any challenge that presents its self in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility."

The exercise was designed to help maintain the ARG's effectiveness and readiness to respond to any unforeseen event in the region.

During this CERTEX, members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) embarked throughout the ARG to train alongside Sailors and Marines conducting maritime operations including: theater security cooperation, amphibious operations, and humanitarian assistance.

"Anytime the MEU has an opportunity to conduct bilateral training with another nation's armed forces, we enhance our overall effectiveness and capabilities for regional contingency response, said Hawkins. "While embarked, the JGSDF platoon actually became a part of the MEU, and they performed extremely well in a variety of challenging missions."

The U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces have a long established bilateral partnership, which is an essential part of maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region.

The U.S. Navy maintains a forward presence in the Asia-Pacific region to contribute to the freedom of navigation and over flight outside the territorial waters and airspace of coastal nations, which supports economic development and international commerce.

Bonhomme Richard, commanded by Capt. Daniel Dusek, is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed amphibious ready group and is currently operating in the 7th Fleet area of operations.