Boatswain's Mate 1st Class James Small directs a Royal Malaysian Navy Super Lynx as it does touch and go training on the flight deck of USS Freedom (LCS 1), June 18 in the South China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson)

SOUTH CHINA SEA - USS Freedom (LCS 1) accomplished several firsts since arriving in Kuantan, Malaysia, June 15 to participate in exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) with the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN).

Freedom was the first U.S. Navy ship assigned to Commander, Task Group 73.1 to pull straight into Kuantan's shallow pier, an event not lost on Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Timothy Wilke.

"Being pierside at Kuantan Naval Base gave us the chance to make an instant impression, and show regional navies what this ship can do and how we can contribute to mutual interests at sea," explained Wilke.

CARAT is a series of bilateral naval exercises between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

Continuing through June 23, CARAT Malaysia 2013 consists of ten days of shore-based and at-sea training events designed to address shared maritime security concerns, develop relationships, and enhance interoperability among participating forces. Participation in the CARAT exercise series is among the key milestones during Freedom's maiden rotational deployment to Southeast Asia.

While in port, Freedom Sailors trained with RMN counterparts and other Task Group 73.1 units during subject matter expert exchanges, participated in community service events and gave tours to visiting officials, sailors and guests.

"Several bonds were made which I hope will provide important insight during the at sea phase," said Wilke. "We have much to learn from the Royal Malaysian Navy, especially in the littorals."

On day one of the 96 hour underway phase, which began June 18, Freedom accomplished another first when a Malaysian Super Lynx helicopter landed on its flight deck to conduct deck landing qualifications. It was the first time a foreign military helicopter landed on a littoral combat ship.

Freedom is similar in size and capabilities to many RMN ships. Its flight deck is approximately 50% larger than a U.S. Navy destroyer. "The helicopter had plenty of space to land," said Wilke. "It completed deck landing qualifications with ease."

Fast, agile and mission-focused, LCS platforms are designed to operate in near-shore environments and employ modular mission packages that can be configured for three separate purposes: surfaces warfare, mine countermeasures or anti-submarine warfare. Freedom deployed to Southeast Asia with the surface warfare mission package.

Additional events that will highlight Freedom's capabilities during the at sea phase include an inbound fast attack craft drill; a search and rescue exercise with Freedom's MH-60R helicopter; and a visit, board, search and seizure drill with Freedom's embarked surface warfare mission package boarding team.

"This training gives us the opportunity to showcase Freedom's capabilities and crew, while working with other navies," said Chief Operations Specialist Jon Criner, Freedom's Operations Leading Chief Petty Officer.

More than 1,200 U.S. Sailors and Marines are participating in CARAT Malaysia 2013. Additional ships in CARAT Task Group 73.1 are the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) with embarked Destroyer Squadron 7 staff, the dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) with embarked USMC Landing Force, and the diving and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) with embarked Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 (MUDSU).

The USMC Landing Force Company is comprised of Marines with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment with an attachment from 2nd Amphibian Assault Battalion, 2nd Marine Division from Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

Also participating in CARAT Malaysia are medical professionals and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) evaluators from Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command (MCAST), Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 (NMCB), P-3C Orion aircraft, and the U.S. Seventh Fleet Band, Orient Express.

Royal Malaysian Navy Sailors handle lines as USS Freedom (LCS 1) arrives in Kuantan, Malaysia, June 15 for CARAT. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay C. Pugh)