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Expeditionary Strike Group 5 Participates in Multinational Maritime Defense Exercise

USS CLEVELAND, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Cleveland (LPD 7) participated in a joint, combined maritime defense exercise Feb. 16, with Commander, Task Force Iraqi Maritime (CTF IM), a coalition-led task force responsible for providing maritime security, infrastructure protection, and training to the Iraqi Navy.

"One of our key missions in CTF IM is to defend maritime infrastructure that is essential to Iraq's prosperity," said CTF IM Commodore Chris Richards. "I am confident that the training conducted during this exercise significantly improved our capacity to perform that mission."

Cleveland's embarked Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) supported the exercise with two AH-1W Super Cobras from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166.

The attack helicopters worked with six United States and United Kingdom surface combatants operating near the Al Basrah Oil Terminal (ABOT) in the North Arabian Gulf to improve rotary wing function in maritime infrastructure protection.

"This was the first time a Marine attack helicopter integrated in the air defense efforts for the oil platform," said Marine Corps Capt. Ryan Welborn, one of the Cobra pilots from Cleveland who flew during the exercise. "We learned a lot during this mission set."
CTF IM, located on ABOT, served as the on-scene commander for the exercise.

"Any exercise integrating rotary and fixed wing aircraft in maritime security operations should be seized, and the 11th MEU team made it easy for us to take full advantage of the opportunity," said Richards. "It was a beneficial, rewarding experience, made even more so because of the skill, enthusiasm, and flexibility demonstrated by the pilots and air crews of these exceptionally capable aircraft."

Participating British ships included the frigate HMS Monmouth (F235) and Royal Auxiliary Amphibious Assault Vessel RFA Cardigan Bay (L3009).

"Training with the crews of the Monmouth and Cardigan Bay was an excellent opportunity to develop a cohesive and relevant naval force capable of protecting critical infrastructure that accounts for approximately 80 percent of Iraq's gross domestic product," said Capt. Kevin Couch, commanding officer for Cleveland, an Austin-Class amphibious transport dock.

Other participating U.S. vessels included coastal patrol ships USS Sirocco (PC 6) and USS Typhoon (PC 5), guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG 59) and USCGC Adak (WPB 1333).

"Cleveland's participation in the exercise demonstrated our ability to build effective partnerships in the maritime domain and develop the skills necessary to provide critical infrastructure protection in the North Arabian Gulf," said Couch.

Cleveland is part of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th MEU team, which has been supporting maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet region, has been deployed since November 2009. Marines aboard the ready group's ships serve as U.S. Naval Forces Central Command's in-theater reserve force – a forward-deployed, quick-response team, capable of accomplishing a variety of missions.

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