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A sailor prepares to shoot a target with a .50-caliber machine gun during a gunnery exercise with the Royal Thai Navy during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training 2017 in Thailand.

A sailor prepares to shoot a target with a .50-caliber machine gun during a gunnery exercise with the Royal Thai Navy during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training 2017 in Thailand. (Deven Ellis/U.S. Navy photo)

The Navy and Marine Corps have kicked off a series of bilateral exercises aimed at strengthening professional skills and building friendships with several Southeast Asian nations.

The 24th annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, or CARAT, which began Wednesday in Thailand, also includes stops in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and Bangladesh. Similar training will also occur with Vietnam and the Philippines.

“The CARAT exercise series provides a unique and vital opportunity for our navies to understand the challenges inherent in a complex maritime environment, and on how to work through them in a cooperative manner,” Capt. Lex Walker, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 7, said in a Navy statement.

The exercises, which will not run back to back, will continue throughout the summer, said 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Clay Doss.

During CARAT’s Thailand leg, the Royal Thai Navy will participate in cooperative exercises at sea with the guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin, the expeditionary fast transport USNS Brunswick, the diving and salvage ship USNS Salvor and a P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, the Navy said. On land, Marines will take part in jungle training and live-fire drills.

“This CARAT exercise provides valuable opportunities for our navies to learn from each other and increase our ability to work cooperatively together in a variety of realistic scenarios,” Capt. Thumrong Supunpong, commander of the Thai Navy exercise task unit, said in the statement.

The Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5 will work on construction projects at a Thai school, while medical personnel, mine-countermeasure experts, diving and salvage crews and explosive ordnance disposal technicians give symposiums to “enhance the complexity and diversity of the training,” the Navy said.

Walker said he looks forward to continuing CARAT exercises in the future.

“Having been part of last year’s CARAT exercise, this year marks a significant growth in our collective ability to work together in even more sophisticated scenarios, and I look forward to continuing this effective engagement next year and beyond,” he said in the statement.

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.
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