In this file photo, an amphibious assault vehicle leaves the well deck of USS Rushmore (LSD 47). (U.S. Navy/MC2 Amanda Gray)

SAN DIEGO - The dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47) and 1st Marine Division (MARDIV) concluded the at-sea amphibious portion of exercise Steel Knight, Dec. 11.

Steel Knight is a scenario-driven exercise designed to enhance the command and control, interoperability, and fundamental warfighting competencies within the 1st MARDIV, its adjacent units, and naval support forces.

"We stay pretty busy during these exercises," said Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Dominic Henderson. Henderson, a Seattle native, says exercises like Steel Knight help prepare Sailors for real world scenarios. "We do it all. We can support almost every kind of landing craft and amphibious mission. Duty aboard a dock landing ship is a great learning opportunity for sailors in the amphibious community," he said.

During the course of Steel Knight, Rushmore launched and recovered landing craft utility (LCUs) boats and amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) carrying Marines to beaches and training facilities on the California coast. Elements of the 1st MARDIV conducted realistic, live fire training as part of their pre-deployment cycle, working to maximize training opportunities in preparation for scheduled, real-world deployments.

Steel Knight provides realistic, relevant training necessary to ensure that the Rushmore and other amphibious warships remain combat ready to support Marine Corps expeditionary operations.

"Our team is experienced and more than ready to perform this mission," said Navy Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) 2 Byron Rios, Rushmore's Bos'n. Rios, a Miami native with years of amphibious warfare experience, looks at these exercises as the best way for Sailors to master their craft. The younger Sailors learn the skills needed to master well deck operations while the more seasoned ones take on leadership roles, he said.

For Seaman Mayra Alatorre, originally from Anaheim, California, the pace of Steel Knight was intense yet satisfying. "I really like the intensity. You are always busy, always learning," she said as she prepared to help recover an LCU into the well deck. "I learned how to work on the flight deck, well deck, and underway replenishments. To me, this is the real Navy."

Steel Knight will continue to challenge the Sailors on board Rushmore and enhance their skills. Equipped with its lessons, Rushmore Sailors and others throughout 1st MARDIV will be honed and combat ready for any situation.