The Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) and the Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary sea base USS Miguel Keith (ESB 5) participated in the Philippine-led exercise Balikatan March 28 to April 8. Balikatan featured field and maritime training events including an amphibious exercise, maritime security training, military operations in an urban terrain training, an air defense exercise, and an airfield seizure exercise. The field and maritime events were designed to develop capabilities pertaining to maritime security, amphibious operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and counterterrorism. Translated, “Balikatan” is a Tagalog phrase that means “shoulder-to-shoulder” or “sharing the load together,” which characterizes the spirit of the exercise and represents the partnership between the United States and the Philippines, as well as both nations’ commitment to the Mutual Defense Treaty.
“It was an honor to be invited to participate in this exercise and conduct operations with our Philippine Navy counterparts,” said Capt. Patrick Keller, commanding officer Miguel Keith’s Gold Crew. “Throughout the exercise we not only got to work with talented naval allies, we were also able to validate our aviation core capability, embarking and operating U.S. Marine Corps aircraft from the ship.”
“Conducting exercises at sea with our allies ensures that we are prepared in any situation to seamlessly come together,” said Cmdr. Keith Tate, Ashland’s commanding officer. “We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside Philippine Naval professionals.”
Ashland and Miguel Keith supported amphibious operations and landings, rotary wing aircraft operations, and maritime security events, such as visit, board, search and seizure exercises. Additionally, they supported coastal defense operations and formation steaming maneuvers. Balikatan involved coordination and participation from the Philippine Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, and special operations forces. The exercise will also include participation from the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Army, and Special Operations Command. Additionally, the Armed Forces of the Philippines invited observers, as part of the International Observers Program, to promote greater defense cooperation with ASEAN and other key allies and partners.
As treaty allies, U.S.-Philippine military cooperation has served as a cornerstone of stability in the Indo-Pacific region for decades. We have a continuing interest in strengthening our longstanding alliance, reinforcing our maritime security efforts, and addressing the shared extremist threat. Ashland and Miguel Keith, part of the USS America (LHA 6) Amphibious Ready Group, are operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners, serving as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.