SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) returned to homeport following the successful completion of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2016, Aug. 12.
During this year's multinational maritime exercise, America served as the command and control platform for the amphibious task force, Combined Task Force 176. As the CTF 176 flagship, America hosted Commodore James L. Gilmour of the Royal New Zealand navy and members of his staff; as well as Rear Adm. Daniel H. Fillion, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3; and CTF 176's Fleet Marine Officer Brig. Gen. David G. Bellon.
"RIMPAC 2016 encompassed rich training opportunities for all aspects of warfare on, in, above and from the sea," said Gilmour. "For the amphibious task force, we conducted these activities both in the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. Together, these training objectives helped us better understand how to build a stronger force within a multinational environment [in order] to respond to real-world, peace and security efforts in the complex and dynamic world we live in."
The ship and its crew participated in several distinguished visitor embarks during the exercise, including with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Johnathan Richardson and Undersecretary of the Navy Dr. Janine Davidson.
Several amphibious interoperability exercises-at-sea took place with Australia's HMAS Canberra (LHD 02) and amphibious transport dock USS San Diego (LPD 22), showcasing CTF 176's flexibility with well deck and aviation operations. America's enhanced aviation capabilities allowed for continuous personnel transfer from ship to shore through the use of U.S. Marine Corps aircraft, including the MV-22 Osprey and CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters. Landing forces from the U.S. Marine Corps, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia were transported expeditiously from the flight deck of America to the island of Hawaii in order to simulate beach assault and air assault mission sets.
"I think [RIMPAC brought] us closer together," said Royal New Zealand navy Lt. Cmdr. Dave Barr, CTF 176 staff planning officer. "We interacted so much with all the Marines and Navy personnel. The future leaders of our two navies, and potentially even our countries, [were involved with] this exercise. In two years time on the next RIMPAC, or 10 years time when these people have become senior officers or senior enlisted, they know each other. They can work better together, and they can keep developing the bonds further to make us great partners against any kind of disaster or humanitarian aid event."
Capt. Michael W. Baze, America's commanding officer, said the training opportunities RIMPAC provided are important for the future of the Navy and Marine Corps team, and also stressed the importance for sustaining strong international relationships in wartime and peacetime environments.
"The strategic impact of something like RIMPAC is immeasurable," said Baze. "There's a lot of complexity in the world, a lot of politics, [and] a lot of international diplomacy, but at the end of the day -- in my mind -- if my Sailors are talking to sailors from other countries and they're hanging out on liberty together and getting to know each other, they are building friendships and a rapport. These relationships and cultural understandings will serve dividends down the road."
Sailors and Marines serving aboard America throughout RIMPAC learned more about the benefits of operating and growing with foreign partners.
"Everyone we had the pleasure to meet and work with were outstanding," said Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Lyndsi R. Hawkins, an America Sailor. "It was a great opportunity to learn about the different cultures of our partners. It was an eye-opening experience because I have really only thought about our Navy and how we do things, but this exercise allowed Sailors on America to gain a new perspective. I will never forget this experience."
Twenty-six nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in RIMPAC from June 30 to Aug. 4, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. As the world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provided a unique training opportunity that helped participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea-lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2016 was the 25th exercise in the series that began in 1971.
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