Vice Adm. Robert Thomas and Vice Adm. Tea Vinh, commander of the Royal Cambodian Navy, salute side boys during the CARAT Cambodia opening ceremony. (U.S. Navy/MC1 Jay C. Pugh)

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia - The fifth convening of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Cambodia exercise began at Ream Naval Base, Oct. 27.

Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, delivered opening ceremony remarks before participating U.S. Navy Sailors and members of the Royal Cambodian Navy.

"We've made steady progress in just a few years, growing CARAT from a basic port visit to a series of training events on Ream Naval Base and culminating this year in a two-day sea phase in the Gulf of Thailand," Thomas said.

CARAT provides a credible venue for regional navies to share best practices and foster maritime security cooperation. The RCN joined the CARAT series in 2010, making it the first dedicated exercise between both navies in several decades.

Ashore, personnel will conduct hands-on training in damage control, navigation, tactical combat casualty care (TCCC), force protection and visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) techniques. For the first time, the Royal Cambodian Air Force will participate in a joint search and rescue exchange. Symposia will bring together professionals from both navies to discuss best practices in military law, military medicine and aviation search and rescue.

At sea, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89), embarked with Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 staff and two MH-60R helicopters, will train with two RCN Stenka-class patrol boats. In addition to maneuvering and surface gunnery drills, highlights include a shiprider exchange, maritime boarding scenarios and a search and rescue exercise.

Also as part of CARAT 2014, USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) and embarked an mobile diving and salvage unit (MDSU) conducted a bilateral diving exercise focused on diving medicine, port security and underwater hull inspection from Oct. 21-25.

"Maritime security challenges in this region are real," continued Thomas. "No one nation can address these challenges alone which is why exercises like CARAT are critical to promoting regional stability."

Capt. Fred Kacher, Destroyer Squadron 7 commodore, remarked that he looked forward to this year's underway phase with the RCN.

"Successfully operating at-sea together is crucial as both our nations work hard to keep sea lanes safe throughout Southeast Asia," said Kacher. "I am impressed with the increased complexity that this year's CARAT exercise brings and am excited for the opportunity to operate underway with our Cambodian counterparts."

In its 20th year, CARAT is a series of bilateral naval exercises between the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations in South and Southeast Asia.

Sailors aboard USS Mustin (DDG 89) stands watch as the ship arrives in Sihanoukville, Oct. 25. (U.S. Navy/ MC2 Declan Barnes)