U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships steam in formation at the conclusion of exercise Keen Sword in November. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Chris Cavagnaro)

YOKOSUKA, Japan - In 2014, U.S. 7th Fleet ships, squadrons, operational units and senior leaders promoted regional stability and maritime security through more than 1,000 theater security cooperation engagements.

Engagements included major operational events, such as 160 bilateral and multilateral exercises, as well as 370 port visits and more than 500 senior leader exchanges, construction projects, military-to-military training and education seminars and community relations events.

"Professional engagement with our allies, partners and friends in the region provides us with the opportunity to build upon our existing, strong relationships, as well as learn from each other," said Capt. Ronald Oswald, U.S. 7th Fleet theater security cooperation coordinator.

Exercises provide a vital military-to-military exchange that increase capabilities and foster relationships throughout the region.

Major exercises in 2014 included Keen Sword, Key Resolve, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, Malabar, Valiant Shield, and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) series.

These exercises are designed to address common maritime security priorities and concerns, enhance interoperability and communication, and develop relationships that will benefit our forces for many years to come.

Exercises ranged from advanced, high-end operations in anti-surface, submarine and air warfare with our closest allies to basic seamanship and navigational training with up-and-coming navies.

Keen Sword 15 is an example of one of the 160 bilateral and multilateral exercises conducted by U.S. 7th Fleet units. Keen Sword was the latest in a series of joint/bilateral field training exercises involving U.S. military and Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) units, including 11,000 U.S. military personnel, who trained in all major warfare areas.

"Keen Sword is designed to allow the U.S. and Japan to practice and coordinate our procedures together and interoperability in all warfare disciplines," said Rear Adm. John D. Alexander, commander, Battle Force U.S. 7th Fleet.

One of the highlights for this year's exercise was JMSDF Escort Force 2 training as the sea combatant commander by coordinating the scheme of maneuver for the strike group surface combatants.

"It was a closely coordinated plan on how the ships maneuvered around the battle space to prosecute opposing forces as well as defend the battle force. It was key that we were able to work together in a command and control capacity such as this and employ our tactics, techniques and procedures together," said Alexander.

"We are fortunate that they are capable and have the capacity to operate alongside us," he continued. "The fact that we are able to conduct operations as allies and partners goes to the heart of the training that we do together. We need to continue to focus on our relationship both at sea and in port."

The establishment of Task Force 75 (CTF 75) this year marked a significant addition to U.S. 7th Fleet theater security cooperation by streamlining the command and control of Navy Expeditionary Forces to better support missions in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

CTF-75 completed 28 exercises in 18 countries, along with 27 regional construction projects. Significant examples of CTF-75's construction projects include building three maternity wards in Cambodia; multiple classroom buildings, a science room, and a hospital outpatient building in the Philippines; an emergency room in Timor-Leste; and a classroom, medical facility and two solar-powered water pumps in West Timor.

"We completely integrated their efforts into the larger 7th Fleet combat readiness scheme, our theater security cooperation efforts and crisis responses," said Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. "They provide us great access and really move our strategic intent forward. For example, the Seabee's humanitarian assistance projects in the region are truly beneficial for fostering stronger relationships with partner and allied nations in the region," said Thomas.

Of U.S. 7th Fleet's 370 port visits, the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) highlighted this year's port visit schedule in early August with an engagement in Qingdao, China, the first flagship visit to China in more than five years.

"The port visit provided a great opportunity for the Blue Ridge crew and 7th Fleet Staff to continue an enduring, positive navy-to-navy relationship with the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA(N)) North Sea Fleet," said Oswald. "The chance to conduct military engagement and exchanges with the PLA(N) was furthered for the 7th Fleet and the Chinese North Sea Fleet."

Beyond exercises and port visits, the U.S. 7th Fleet conducted more than 500 theater security cooperation engagements that covered a wide-range of events from military-to-military engagements to community relations events. The engagements included approximately:

* 125 professional and information exchanges such as staff talks, conferences, training seminars, media embarks, and ship and aircraft tours.

* More than 250 flag officer and senior leadership military-to-military exchanges.

* Medical engagements such as seminars and training opportunities with India, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea.

* 184 performances by the U.S. 7th Fleet Band in 10 countries for more than 161 thousand people and media broadcasts to more than 18 million.

"2014 was a successful year for theater security cooperation events," said Thomas. "Each engagement is important in solidifying the foundation of the region's stability and security. The foundation is developed over time through continued efforts to strengthen relationships between countries, and the U.S. 7th Fleet stands ready to provide maritime support to the nations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific in their times of need, during events such as natural disasters."

"Maritime security challenges in this region are real," he continued. "No one nation can address these challenges alone which is why theater security cooperation engagements are critical to promoting regional stability."

U.S. Navy Steelworker 2nd Class Felipe Esparza, right, and Philippine Navy Equipment Operator Seaman 2nd Class Johnson Ramales file down handles on a sand sifter during the construction of an outpatient maternity clinic at Tacloban City Hospital in July as part of Pacific Partnership. (U.S. Navy/MCC Greg Badger)
A U.S. Navy Sailor aboard USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) shares fire fighting techniques with a sailor from the Royal Brunei Navy during exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Derek A. Harkins)
Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, and Rear Adm. Timothy Lo, the Republic of Singapore Navy's fleet commander, pause for a photo during the CARAT exercise in Singapore. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Jay C. Pugh)
The U.S. 7th Fleet’s Band, “Orient Express,” performs for local residents in Sihanoukville, Camobodia, during the CARAT phase there. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Jay C. Pugh)
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Corina Fluker, assigned to USS Antietam (CG 54), reads to a student during a community service event in Saipan. (U.S. Navy/MCSN David Flewellyn)