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Marines board USS Denver at Okinawa, head for Cobra Gold

Sailors and Marines prepare the USS Denver to make way for Thailand from Naval Facility White Beach, Okinawa, Feb. 4, 2014. Sailors from the Denver and members of the 3rd Marine Division are heading to Thailand in support of the upcoming Exercise Cobra Gold 2014.

WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, Okinawa — The USS Denver made a brief stop at Okinawa on Wednesday to pick up members of the 3rd Marine Division and their gear before proceeding to Thailand in support of Exercise Cobra Gold 2014.

China is as an observer this year for the annual exercise, which is focused on rehearsing a multinational response to crises in the Asia-Pacific region. Held Feb. 11-21, the main participants are Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea, as well as about 5,000 U.S. personnel from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

An exercise this large requires massive cooperation and coordination efforts spanning different nations -- and even within the U.S. military.

“We’re seeing more and more Marines who have never been on ship before,” Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dustin Heffel, the combat cargo officer for the Denver, said as the ship loaded up at White Beach Naval Facility. “I think it’s important that the ship receives and operates well with the Marines. This is our roots, the amphibious role.

“This is the place to be, building relationships between the United States and our partners in the Pacific,” Heffel said.

The Denver’s support of Cobra Gold also marks what could be the last deployment of the 50-year-old Austin-class amphibious transport dock. The Denver is scheduled for decommissioning in September.

tourtelot.lisa@stripes.com

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