MOROTAI ISLAND, Indonesia – Military Sealift Command oceanographic survey ship USNS Henson (T-AGS 63), with its embarked scientific staff from the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO), joined naval ships from Indonesia, Australia and Singapore in a formation exercise near Morotai Island, Indonesia, Sept. 15.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and hundreds of dignitaries, observed the column of 25 naval ships from a reviewing platform ashore during a ceremony to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Battle of Morotai.

Morotai is part of Indonesia's Maluku islands located between the large Indonesian island of Sulawesi and the southernmost islands of the Philippines. In a campaign led by Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II, U.S. and Australian troops landed on the southwest corner of Morotai, Sept. 15, 1944. Thinly defended by Japanese troops, allied forces quickly established airstrips, an operational harbor and fuel storage facilities which would later play a major role in the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupation.

MSC oceanographic survey ships have a long-standing relationship with the Indonesian navy dating back to 1978, and NAVOCEANO has completed more than 200 joint survey missions to aid in the navigation of its territorial waters.

"USNS Henson was the perfect choice to represent the U.S. Navy in this important event," said Henson's civilian master, Capt. Greg Gillotte. "This sail exercise demonstrates our continued commitment to our Indonesian partners."

"Given the history our two nations have in hydrographic and oceanographic cooperation, our hope is that participating in this formation exercise will continue to build relations and possibly lead to more cooperation in the future," said Calvin Martin, NAVOCEANO program representative for Southeast Asia based in Singapore.

USNS Henson's crew, consisting of 24 civilian mariners working for a private company under contract to MSC, and 13 NAVOCEANO civil service scientific staff, joined a uniformed liaison officer from the Indonesian navy in manning the rails and saluting the reviewing stand as the ship passed.

USNS Henson was the fourth ship in the column on a carefully choreographed course at speeds of about eight knots, passing within a hundred yards of the dignitaries. Each ship rendered a salute to President Yudhoyono as it passed the podium of honor.

Indonesia's navy chief of staff Adm. Soeparno also observed the formation exercise. Rear Adm. Hugh Wetherald, deputy chief of staff for plans, policies and requirements, U.S. Pacific Fleet, was the senior U.S. military representative at the ceremony.

While the sail exercise lasted just over an hour, USNS Henson made three practice runs in previous days, coordinating closely with Indonesian officials both aboard the ship and ashore.

For USNS Henson, the sail exercise included constant minor course and speed changes to ensure its successful execution. Gillotte used the ship's state-of-the-art dynamic position system, a computer-controlled steering system operated by a joystick on the bridge, which maneuvers the ship via rotating propellers instead of a traditional rudder.

"Each member of my crew makes an important contribution to the success of every mission and this sail exercise was no exception," Gillotte said.

Located at John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., NAVOCEANO is the largest subordinate command within the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command and is responsible for providing oceanographic products and services to all elements of the Department of Defense.

MSC operates approximately 110 noncombatant, U.S. merchant mariner-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world, and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.