USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) approaches the pier at White Beach Naval Facility, Jan. 31. (U.S. Navy/MC2 William Sykes)

OKINAWA, Japan - The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) arrived at White Beach, Okinawa, to embark Marines assigned to 3d Marine Division (MARDIV), Jan. 31, in preparation for exercise Cobra Gold 2018.

While in port, Bonhomme Richard will embark 3d MARDIV personnel, vehicles and equipment before continuing a scheduled patrol in which the team will participate in the multilateral exercise.

Bonhomme Richard, along with embarked MH-60S Sea Hawks, assigned to the “Sea Knights” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22, departed from Sasebo, Japan, Jan. 23.

“I am looking forward to embarking our 3d MARDIV counterparts and kicking off Cobra Gold,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Larry McCullen, commanding officer of Bonhomme Richard. “With our embarked surface units and aviation squadrons, Bonhomme Richard’s crew and the Blue-Green team provide a wide range of capabilities for any type of mission. This is what we train for, and working together with our allies will give us the opportunity to demonstrate our numerous capabilities as a warfighting ship and amphibious force.”

During the transit from Sasebo, Bonhomme Richard embarked aviation units that will form the Aviation Combat Element of a Marine Air Ground Task Force. Embarked assets include AH-1Z Vipers, assigned to the "Gunfighters" of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 369, and CH-53E Super Stallions, assigned to the "Wolfpack" of Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 466. Additionally, landing craft air cushions (LCACs) of Naval Beach Unit 7 are embarked to provide a seaborne ship-to-shore capability.

Prior to arriving at White Beach, Bonhomme Richard conducted multiple shipboard certifications, gun exercises and combat systems test fires, to include a pre-aim calibration fire (PACFIRE) and a towed drone unit (TDU) exercise with the MK 15 close-in weapons system (CIWS).

“We have the ability to engage air targets as well as surface contacts,” said Fire Controlman 2nd Class Alexandria Ricalde, from Roy, Wash. “During the PACFIRE, we shot the “killer tomato” [a balloon-like gunnery target], and that was to test our surface shoot, whereas the TDU [a missile-shaped target towed by an aircraft] fire was to test our air capabilities.”

Testing CIWS ensures that the system will track and fire with precision when called into action as a defense against inbound air and surface threats, said Ricalde.

Bonhomme Richard and the embarked Marines are scheduled to train alongside Royal Thai Armed Forces counterparts in the annual exercise Cobra Gold and serve as a ready-force for any type of contingency while on the multi-month patrol.

Cobra Gold is the largest theater security cooperation exercise in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and is an integral part of the U.S. commitment to strengthen engagement in the region. The exercise is designed to advance regional security and ensure effective response to regional crises by exercising a robust multinational force from nations sharing common goals.

Bonhomme Richard is underway on a regularly scheduled patrol in the Indo-Pacific region.

Marines from 3d Marine Division embark the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), Feb. 1. (U.S. Navy/MC2 Diana Quinlan)