SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia (Feb. 26, 2011) A color guard parades the colors on the flight deck of the USS Essex (LHD 2) at the start of a reception for senior civil and military officials from the U.S. and Cambodia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam M. Bennett)

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia - Senior military and civil officials from the U.S. and Kingdom of Cambodia attended a reception aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) Feb. 26 to mark the beginning of a maritime exercise between the two countries.

Attendees included Vice Adm. Tea Vinh, commander of the Royal Cambodian Navy and Flynn Fuller, director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Cambodia. Capt. Bradley Lee, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 11, hosted the event. Throughout the evening, leaders from both countries spoke about the importance of building stronger ties between each other's government.

"All the guests and personnel from our Navy and Marine Corps commands were anxious to meet with each other's host nation counter part and took advantage of the opportunity to forge the relationships that are required for our two nations continued bi-lateral interoperability," said Lee.

Essex' honor guard began the ceremony with presentation of the colors as both nations' national anthems were played. After listening to a series of guest speakers, more than 100 Cambodian and American guests socialized on the flight deck as they dined on a buffet served by the ship's culinary specialists.

"It was a great opportunity to share the evening with such wonderful guests," said Col. Andrew MacMannis, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). "All present were grateful for the opportunity to come aboard Essex and meet with and get to know the Sailors and Marines that have come here to work side-by-side with members of their armed forces. We look forward to sharing our ideas and concepts in finding solutions to the challenges surrounding humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, counter terrorism, and our joint military training."

The opportunity to host the event aboard Essex was an honor, said Capt. David Fluker, Essex commanding officer.

"The reception was a great opportunity to demonstrate the pride and professionalism of Essex and her crew to our Cambodian and U.S. Embassy guests," said Fluker. "It was great to be able to host such an event for the Cambodian community and military leaders who are working with us to promote peace and stability in the region."

The reception marked the beginning of a maritime exercise between the U.S. and the Kingdom of Cambodia, in which U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel will participate in several events designed to enhance interoperability between the U.S. military and Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). During the exercise Essex will embark 60 RCAF personnel for training in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and shipboard evolutions.

The 31st MEU's medical staff will also work with their Cambodian counterparts to provide primary care services, dental care and optometry care to Cambodians in the Kampong Som province.