YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – One of the world’s largest multinational military exercises kicks off Monday in Thailand.

An estimated 11,220 people, including 7,200 U.S. servicemembers, will participate in the 30th annual Cobra Gold exercise, which begins with opening ceremonies in the northern city of Chiang Mai, and concludes Feb. 18.

Servicemembers from Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia will join hosts Thailand and the United States, U.S. Marine Corps officials said Friday.

This year is Malaysia’s first year as a full member, according to Cobra Gold public affairs officer Lt. Col. David Griesmer. Malaysia previously observed the exercise, but now its servicemembers will participate in a joint staff exercise and in civic assistance projects.

Cobra Gold includes an annual senior leadership seminar, where top military officers and civilians will discuss the lessons they’ve learned in combating piracy and drug trafficking. They also will discuss how to better work together during disaster relief efforts, officials said.

Multiple natural disasters struck the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations in 2010, just as they have several times in the past decade.

“The skills that the military learns in this exercise are going to be directly applied to future crises that may occur,” Griesmer said. “That allows for better response by the governments to address these disasters and crises.”

In the field, Cobra Gold includes several live-fire demonstrations, including an amphibious assault scheduled for Thursday in Hat Yao.

Thai Lt. Gen. Surapun Wongthai will serve as exercise commander, with U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck Jr. serving as deputy commander.

Although the official kickoff for the exercise is Monday, U.S. servicemembers have been working on community service projects throughout Thailand since Jan. 17 as part of the Freedom Banner exercise.

Among the Marine units participating are: Okinawa’s 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment acting as its ground combat element; Marine Wing Support Squadron 172; Marine Aircraft Group 36; and Combat Logistics Regiments 35 and Combat Logistics Regiment 3.

The Sasebo, Japan-based USS Essex, USS Germantown and USS Denver also are participating.

The Military Sealift Command’s USNS 1st Lt. Jack Lummus and USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin, as well as the contracted HSV Westpac Express and MV Happy Delta, have been ferrying Marines and supplies to Thailand since Freedom Banner began last month.

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