USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) departs Yokosuka, Japan, Feb. 28. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Ramon G. Go)

PACIFIC OCEAN - U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) departed Yokosuka, Japan, Feb. 28 for its first patrol of the year.

During the patrol, Blue Ridge crew members are joined by embarked 7th Fleet staff, members of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12, the "Golden Falcons," and Marines assigned to Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team Pacific.

"This team has worked hard in preparation for this patrol and is ready to go, "said Commanding Officer Capt. Richard McCormack. "The dedication and commitment shown by Blue Ridge Sailors will serve the country well in support of our global national interests."

"The crew is proud of their accomplishments and is becoming more confident with every training evolution," said Blue Ridge Command Master Chief Mark Tomlinson. "In a matter of days we've gone from being repaired pier side to a mission-ready, massive and impressive naval vessel, ready to proudly wave the American flag and carry out the business of 7th Fleet."

Blue Ridge will participate in exercises to strengthen relationships with U.S. allies and partner nations while providing advanced communication capabilities and supporting Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) efforts during the patrol across the Asia-Pacific region.

"The versatility and capability of the Blue Ridge/ 7th Fleet team is incredible," said Master Chief Fire Controlman Craig A. Hohnstein, 7th Fleet senior enlisted leader. "Whether we are conducting exercises or TSC visits with our partners and allies, this ship is a concrete representation of the commitment the U.S. Navy has to this region's security and prosperity."

Blue Ridge has been forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, for 34 years. As the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Robert L. Thomas, Blue Ridge is vital in maintaining partnerships in the 7th Fleet area of operations.