Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet

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Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Building on partnerships at Cobra Gold

By Capt. Larry McCullen, commanding officer, USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) | | March 06, 2018


As the Commanding Officer of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), my days are usually filled with myriad operations from launching or recovering amphibious craft to launching and landing helicopters on the flight deck.

Our crew spends countless hours maintaining onboard equipment and working toward the qualifications necessary to ensure mission completion. ‘Game day,’ or amphibious ops in a joint and combined environment, provides a great sense of professional satisfaction throughout the ship as we come together as a team to make a complex evolution a ship-wide success.

We recently spent two weeks off the coast of Thailand, working alongside Thai and Republic of Korea navies in the trilateral amphibious exercise Cobra Gold 2018. Cobra Gold has been conducted every year for the last 37 years and has flourished into one of the largest multinational security cooperation exercises in the Indo-Pacific region. The objectives are to improve the capabilities of partner nations; together we plan and conduct combined and joint operations, build relationships among participating nations across the region, and improve interoperability through a range of missions which included a large-scale natural disaster response.

Bonhomme Richard and the 3d Marine Division along with the Thai and ROK forces made up an amphibious force of 2,300 Sailors, Marines and Airmen from three nations.

I enjoyed the privilege of serving alongside Thai Navy Capt. Nuttapol Diewvanich, commander of the Royal Thai Navy amphibious transport dock HTMS Angthong (LPD-791), and Republic of Korea Capt Lee Hong Jeong, commander of Amphibious Squadron 53, who led ROK naval forces aboard ROKS Cheon Ja Bong (LST-687). 

Before getting underway, we met face-to-face and discussed tactics, techniques and procedures, and walked through the assault on our objective beach. I truly enjoyed sharing experiences with these two leaders. They have an incredible wealth of experience and knowledge of amphibious operations.

We executed a full day focused on shipboard interoperability and recovered a ROK landing craft mechanized (LCM) from Cheon Ja Bong, similar to the Navy’s landing craft utility (LCU). We also recovered and launched a Royal Thai Navy S-70B Sea Hawk helicopter on Bonhomme Richard’s flight deck. The experience was invaluable for my Deck and Air Departments.

Since I assumed command last April, I have asked my crew to Stay focused, Be ready, and always make an IMPACTT every day; during Cobra Gold we achieved that and more. It was an exercise that displayed all elements of teamwork as we worked alongside our mission partners.

Exercises with our allies, such as Cobra Gold, greatly improve our interoperability and ability to respond to natural disasters with amphibious ships of the U.S. Navy, such as Bonhomme Richard. It gives me a certain sense of pride and satisfaction that this ship has the ability to quickly respond in any crisis to alleviate the suffering of many nations following a natural disaster.

Cobra Gold builds on that readiness and fosters lasting bonds with nations that we will work side-by-side with here in the Pacific area of operations.