A Vietnam People's Navy minesweeper operates alongside USS John S. McCain (DDG 54) in the South China Sea April 12 during an inaugural search and rescue exercise between the two navies. (U.S Navy/FCC Steven Newberry)

SOUTH CHINA SEA - The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) conducted a search and rescue exercise with a Vietnam People’s Navy minesweeper off the coast of Da Nang, Vietnam, April 12.

This first-ever SAR event between the U.S. and Vietnamese navies occurred a few hours after McCain got underway from the port of Da Nang, concluding six days of professional exchanges and skills transfers as part of Naval Engagement Activity (NEA) Vietnam that began April 7.

“After a very productive series of naval exchanges in Da Nang this week, our at sea exercise today was an important stepping stone in building confidence to operate together in the maritime domain,” said Capt. Paul Schlise, commodore, Destroyer Squadron 7 and commander, Task Group 73.1.

After McCain rendezvoused with HQ-862, both ships commenced a coordinated search for a simulated distressed vessel. The ships practiced bridge-to-bridge communications, flaghoist drills and search patterns to locate and render assistance to the simulated distressed vessel. Upon conclusion, the ships exchanged farewell messages and McCain continued out to sea.

“Both ships did a fine job executing this search and rescue training – communications were professional and the crews handled their ships well – setting the tone for follow-on events between our navies,” said Cmdr. Chase Sargeant, commanding officer, USS John S. McCain.

2014 marks the fifth consecutive NEA Vietnam and the tenth year that U.S. Navy ships have called upon the port of Da Nang. USS John S. McCain last visited Da Nang in August 2010 as part of the inaugural NEA Vietnam, which coincided with the 15th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam.

As with previous years, NEA Vietnam 2014 focused on professional exchanges between the VPN and U.S. Navy in military medicine, search and rescue, diving and salvage and shipboard damage control. NEA also provides an opportunity to develop mutual understanding and enduring relationships that will serve both navies for many years to come through ship tours, 7th Fleet band concerts, sporting events and community service projects.

Approximately 400 U.S. Navy Sailors and civilian mariners participated in NEA Vietnam 2014. Participating units include USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) with embarked Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5, staff from Destroyer Squadron 7 and Commander, Task Force 73, and the U.S. 7th Fleet Band, Orient Express.