USS Comstock (LSD 45) and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships steam in formation during Keen Sword. (U.S. Navy/PO1 Nardel Gervacio)

GUAM - Amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45), embarked Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) concluded exercise Keen Sword 17 (KS17) in Guam, Nov. 11.

The joint, bilateral training exercise occurs biennially and aims to meet mutual defense objectives by increasing combat readiness and communication and coordination between JSDF and U.S. forces. Approximately 11,000 service members from the U.S. military conducted training with their JSDF counterparts at military installations throughout Japan, the Mariana Islands, and in the surrounding waters.

"Working alongside our partners to plan and execute exercises like Keen Sword creates force multipliers and enhances knowledge and capabilities across the amphibious forces," said Capt. Michael Crary, commander, Amphibious Squadron 5. "The U.S.-Japan alliance is strong, and opportunities for our militaries to exchange best practices and gain familiarity with one another strengthen our relationship and ability to respond swiftly and cohesively in a crisis situation."

During the exercise, the Sailors and Marines of Comstock conducted a military demonstration with amphibious assault vehicles off the coast of Tinian, landing craft utility sterngate marriages at Guam, and sailed in a unit formation with JSDF ships and aircraft. The crew also hosted JSDF liaison officers for professional exchanges, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps shipboard familiarization events, and staff planning exercises.

"Keen Sword allowed our Sailors and Marines to work one-on-one with our JSDF counterparts on several occasions," said Cmdr. Gervy Alota, commanding officer of Comstock. "There's no substitute for this type of training, and it's an invaluable part of enhancing our relationship with Japan. The training we conducted and friendships we made here will only help us work better during a real-world mission."

KS17 marks the first iteration of the exercise in which bilateral operations have extended beyond the waters, land, and airspace of Japan to include training on and near the islands of Tinian and Guam, with the goal of increasing complexity and training value for participating forces.

Ashore on Guam, 11th MEU Marines assigned to Combat Logistics Detachment 113, Combat Logistics Battalion 11, conducted unit specific training including general engineering, communications, convoy operations, water purification, and combat marksmanship; and Company B, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, conducted patrolling exercises, combat marksmanship, close-air-support training, and squad and platoon-level attacks.

The amphibious portion of KS17, which included forces at sea and ashore, was commanded by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Rear Adm. Hideki Yuasa, whose Mine Warfare Force works in partnership with Amphibious Force 7th Fleet on an ongoing basis.

"JMSDF is a highly-capable, professional force, and we are honored to have worked with them during Keen Sword," said Crary. "It is important we continue these exercises, dialogues, and opportunities together."

Comstock, part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), is operating with the embarked 11th MEU in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

The MKI ARG/11th MEU provides senior U.S. military leadership and coalition partners with a flexible force which can rapidly respond to contingencies and crises within a region. With ships, aircraft, troops, and logistical equipment, the ARG/MEU is a self-contained and self-sustained task force capable of conducting everything from combat operations to providing humanitarian assistance.

The 7th Fleet area of operations includes more than 48 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean, running from the international dateline to the eastern coast of Africa, and from the Antarctic to the Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan.

While in 7th Fleet, the Makin Island ARG and 11th MEU will be assigned to Commander, Amphibious Force U.S. 7th Fleet, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force, headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa.