Cmdr. Joe Femino, commanding officer of USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), watches USS Freedom (LCS 1) as the ships pass June 20 during a divisional tactics drill as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Malaysia 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Matthew Olay)

KUANTAN, Malaysia - The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) and other Task Group 73.1 assets successfully completed four full days of combined, at-sea training events with the Royal Malaysian Navy, June 22, as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Malaysia 2013.

The Malaysian leg of CARAT marks Freedom's first time participating in this series of bilateral naval exercises, which (in addition to Malaysia) take place annually between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

During the first three days off the coast of Kuantan, Freedom operated closely with USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) and its embarked Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7 staff to complete a series of maneuvers and exercises with the Royal Malaysian Navy's guided missile frigate KD Jebat, as well as the offshore patrol vessel KD Kelantan. Both RMN ships are comparable in size and capability with Freedom, and many regional navies operate similar ships.

The time at sea gave Freedom, which is designed to swap out various mission modules depending on what the operational environment calls for, an opportunity to test its surface warfare mission package while also playing a significant role in an anti-submarine warfare exercise with its embarked MH-60R helicopter.

Freedom remained at sea a fourth day to support the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and its embarked Marines during an amphibious beach landing exercise.

"With respect to Freedom, we're just starting to scratch the surface on everything the ship can do," said Capt. Paul Schlise, the task group's commander and commodore of DESRON 7. "It's built to be a focused mission ship, and with its open architecture and its reconfigurable mission bay, it's going to bring capability to the Southeast Asia region that's really going to be a force multiplier out here. And as the operational commander, I couldn't be more excited about that."

Schlise added that the underway period helped to build on the strong bond that has been forged over the years between the U.S. and Malaysian navies.

"This is the 19th year that we've done CARAT with Malaysia, and they're eager to continue to push the envelope with our operations and make them more complex. They're a great friend and partner here in the region, and it's really a treat to work with them."

Though some of the planned, at-sea exercises were hampered by poor visibility, Schlise said that the at-sea phase of CARAT Malaysia was an overall success that benefitted all participants, especially the Sailors of LCS-1.

"There's a learning curve for their crew (because) they haven't done a lot of multi-ship operations, but it's an eager crew and a good hard-working crew, and Freedom has contributed, as have all the other ships in the group, to a successful exercise."

Continuing through June 23, CARAT Malaysia 2013 consists of ten days of shore-based and at-sea training events designed to address shared maritime security concerns, develop relationships, and enhance interoperability among participating forces. Participation in the CARAT exercise series is among the key milestones during Freedom's maiden rotational deployment to Southeast Asia.

More than 1,200 U.S. Sailors and Marines are participating in CARAT Malaysia 2013. Additional ships in Commander, Task Group 73.1 are the dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) with embarked USMC Landing Force, and the diving and salvage ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) with embarked Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 (MUDSU).

The USMC Landing Force Company is comprised of Marines with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment with an attachment from 2nd Amphibian Assault Battalion, 2nd Marine Division from Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

Also participating in CARAT Malaysia are medical professionals and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) evaluators from Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command (MCAST), Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 (NMCB), P-3C Orion aircraft, and the U.S. Seventh Fleet Band, Orient Express.

A rigid hull inflatable boat from USS Freedom (LCS 1) takes the embarked visit, board, search and seizure team to the Malaysian frigate KD Jabat during a compliant boarding exercise in the South China Sea, June 20. (U.S. Navy photo by Naval Aircrewman Tactical-Helicopter 2nd Class Corey Ring)