GULF OF THAILAND (Feb. 6, 2009) Aca,!" The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) arrived off the coast of Thailand Feb. 7 to participate in Exercise Cobra Gold 2009.

Cobra Gold is a regularly scheduled multinational exercise hosted annually by the Kingdom of Thailand. CG 09 is the latest in a continuing series of exercises designed to promote regional peace and security.

Aca,!A"Working with our long-time friend and ally, Thailand, is always one of the highlights of our spring patrol,Aca,!A? said Essex commanding officer Capt. Brent Canady. Aca,!A"Cobra Gold provides a great opportunity for all nations involved to improve (their) interoperability.Aca,!A?

Essex is operating with the dock landing ships USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), and the guided missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG 63), along with military personnel representing Thailand, Singapore, Japan and Indonesia. The exercise will demonstrate the ability to deploy a joint task force rapidly to conduct joint/combined operations, transition of authority with a United Nations Force, and a field training exercise.

During the exercise, Essex will conduct naval maneuvers with the Royal Thai Navy. Essex Sailors will also participate in a community relations project. Activities will include minor repair work, painting and spending time with the children.

Aca,!A"One of our goals is to be ambassadors of goodwill and friendship,Aca,!A? said Cmdr. Chin Dang, Essex command chaplain. Aca,!A"That goodwill works both ways, too. When a Sailor goes out and does something good for someone in need, it makes them feel good about themselves.Aca,!A?

The project is scheduled to take place during a port visit, which will also serve as a chance for Sailors and Marines to enjoy a few days in Thailand. Essex Morale Welfare and Recreation department is offering a variety of tours featuring the countryAca,!a,,cs rich culture and exotic landscape.

Aca,!A"We try to offer a variety of tours for the Sailors and Marines during each port visit,Aca,!A? said Mick Hultz, Essex afloat recreation specialist. Aca,!A"Thailand has a rich and varied history that Essex Sailors are going to get to explore.Aca,!A?

In all, EssexAca,!a,,c MWR will offer 13 tours, featuring everything from ThailandAca,!a,,cs ancient city of Muang Boran to its famous floating market. Many Essex Sailors are not strangers to the country. This visit will be the second for Aviation MachinistAca,!a,,cs Mate First Class (AW/SW) Guy Dickantone, of Fort Wayne, Ind.

Aca,!A"Last visit, I toured the floating market and it was very interesting,Aca,!A? said Dickantone. Aca,!A"You travel through the market just like the Thai people did before there were roads. You float through, buy what you want to buy and keep moving.Aca,!A?

Dickantone said he has seen ThailandAca,!a,,cs diverse culture first-hand and is looking forward to something new during this visit.

Aca,!A"MWR tours are great because they give Sailors a chance to experience a foreign country with a group of familiar people,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"ItAca,!a,,cs also provides Sailors a fun educational alternative to the nightclubs and bars and helps then to stay out of trouble. Hopefully it will be a safe, enjoyable port visit for everyone.Aca,!A?

Essex is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan.