03 April 2013

More US ships arrive in the Philippines for Balikatan 2013

More US ships have arrived in the country to offload military personnel and combat equipment for the 29th annual PH-US military exercise, "Balikatan 2013".

On Tuesday, the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) dropped anchor in Manila for a port call before proceeding to Subic Bay.

Tortuga is part of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and is deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility.

During Balikatan, which will take place in Central Luzon April 5 to 17, the Tortuga will support Philippine and U.S. troops’ joint training for humanitarian assistance and disaster response scenarios.

Cmdr. John Barnett, commanding officer of USS Tortuga, noted that Balikatan contributes to regional security and stability, as well as, strengthening America's roots of cooperation with the Philippine people.

"This exercise (Balikatan) helps us maintain a high level of interoperability... It enhances military-to-military relations and combined combat capabilities," said Barnett.

Earlier, US Navy ships and personnel assigned to Military Sealift Command also transported Marine Corps combat equipment and supplies to Subic Bay in support of Balikatan and for the Freedom Banner exercise held March 21-26.

“Freedom Banner is a (U.S. Pacific Command-directed) exercise that supports multiple countries throughout the region,” said U.S. Marine Col. Mark J. Menotti, assistant chief of staff for Logistics, 3D Marine Expeditionary Brigade, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

“This is the first time in more than 20 years that Freedom Banner is supporting the Philippines, which gives us an opportunity to build closer ties with the Philippine armed forces," said Menotti.

Designed to deliver military cargo and supplies in response to a contingency, Marine Prepositioning Force ship USNS 1st Lt. Jack Lummus (T-AK 3011), and its crew, transported 270 tactical vehicles and amphibious assault vehicles culminitating in a pierside offload during Freedom Banner 2013.

A USN report said dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Sacagawea(T-AKE 2)also provided support by remaining off shore during the exercise, testing ship-to-shore sustainment of troops and equipment.

MSC-contracted vessel MV Capt. Steven L. Bennett delivered additional Marine Corps cargo from Okinawa. The 687-foot container ship offloaded 430 pieces of equipment, including vehicles, containerized equipment and break-bulk cargo.

The USN said that at the conclusion of the Balikatan exercise, cargo will be reconstituted aboard Lummus and Sacagawea. The reconstitution also concludes Freedom Banner 2013. Remaing cargo is then delivered back to Okinawa aboard a to-be-determined contract vessel. (Elena L. Aben, Manila Bulletin)