GULF OF THAILAND (Feb. 14, 2011) Ships of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group, along with Royal Thai Navy ship HTMS Surin (LST 722) and USS Stockdale (DDG 106), steam in formation during exercise Cobra Gold 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eva-Marie Ramsaran)

USS ESSEX, At sea - The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) completed its part in the U.S-Thai sponsored joint, multinational exercise Cobra Gold 2011 (CG 11) Feb. 19 in the Gulf of Thailand.

Throughout the exercise, militaries of the Kingdom of Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea and Malaysia worked with more than 7,200 U.S. service members to demonstrate the ability to rapidly deploy a joint task force to conduct combined operations at sea and ashore.

“We were able to achieve all our goals of interoperability and training by working side by side with our Thai counterparts,” said Capt. Bradley Lee, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11 (PHIBRON 11). “We were additionally able to learn some lessons from our Thai counterparts and we greatly appreciate their hospitality to our Sailors and Marines.”

CG 11 was punctuated with multiple training evolutions, including a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) exercise, a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercise and a mock amphibious raid. The raid involved more than 11,000 personnel of various nations and utilized almost all of the ARG’s assets.

“The amphibious assault best exemplified the team work and bilateral training that we get from this exercise,” said Lee. “The coordination of air space and sea space furthered our understanding of each other's tactics and techniques, which will prove invaluable should we have to do any of the scenarios in a real environment.”

For the NEO exercise, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and Assault Craft Unit 5 worked together to transport more than 100 Japanese, Thai and American mock evacuees from Hat Yao Beach to Essex for medical care and protection.

The exercise demonstrated the ARG’s ability to evacuate civilians during a time of crisis.

“The NEO exercise was an enormous undertaking, but it went very smoothly,” said 1st Lt. Patrick Grainey, 31st MEU NEO team leader. “We utilized helicopters and amphibious craft from various countries and hit our timelines right on the dot.”

The 31st MEU Force Reconnaissance Platoon conducted the VBSS exercise onboard USNS 1st Lt. Jack Lummus (T-AK 3011) Feb. 18. Fifty-six Marines fast roped from five CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters and searched the vessel for an on-board target designated in the training scenario.

“We conducted a fast, safe boarding and secured our target,” said Marine Capt. Tyson N. Schroeder, assault force commander. “A good VBSS team is an invaluable asset to have when conducting operations at sea. There are a lot of challenges to taking control of a steaming ship, but our team proved they have what it takes.”

The U.S. and the Kingdom of Thailand have been working together for 178 years. CG 11 was the latest in a continuing series of exercises designed to promote peace and security in the Western Pacific. This year’s exercise marked the 30th anniversary of the CG series.

Lee added, “I look forward to the next Cobra Gold and hope that we are able to build on the synergy that we achieved this year to create an environment even more integrated and efficient.”

The ARG consists of the 31st MEU, embarked aboard Essex, the amphibious transport dock USS Denver (LPD 9) and the dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42).

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group reports to Commander, Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet, Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, who is headquartered in Okinawa, Japan.