Subic Bay, Philippines - The 20th annual exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines wrapped up with a closing ceremony on board the guided missile destroyer, USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), July 1st.

The ceremony occurred a day after McCain, the dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) and the Philippine navy ships, BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF 15) and BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF 16), returned from three days of exercises in the South China Sea.

"CARAT Philippines 2014 has been the most complex CARAT ever undertaken between our two navies," said Capt. Paul Schlise, commander, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7.

This year's CARAT Philippines focused on combined operations at sea, amphibious landings, expeditionary warfare and maritime domain awareness. One of many successes was the first-ever landing of a Philippine navy helicopter on a U.S. Navy ship, when AW109 conducted deck landing qualifications on McCain.

"The at-sea operations were a specific highlight and re-affirmed the ability of our navies to operate seamlessly together in a variety of challenging scenarios focused on shared maritime interests and safeguarding freedom of the maritime commons in this important region," said Schlise.

Sailors and Marines trained with their Philippine Armed Forces counterparts during multiple drills, professional exchanges and seminars ashore on diving and salvage, explosive ordnance disposal and riverine boat patrols. Civil action projects, community service events and band concerts facilitated interaction with the local community.

CARAT Philippines is part of a broader bilateral exercise series the U.S. Navy conducts with nine partner navies in South and Southeast Asia to address shared maritime security priorities, strengthen maritime partnerships and enhance interoperability among participating forces. The Philippines has participated since the series began in 1995. For the past two decades, CARAT has been a clear example of the longstanding and close U.S.-Philippines navy-to-navy relationship.

The exercise series promotes regional maritime cooperation with many participating navies. CARAT 2014 began in late May and recently completed phases with Malaysia and Indonesia. Additional phases will continue through the end of the year with Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Singapore and Timor-Leste.

More than 1,000 Sailors and Marines participated in CARAT Philippines 2014. Participating units include McCain, Ashland (LSD 48) with embarked Marines from 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Safeguard (T-ARS 50) with embarked Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 and a P-3C maritime patrol aircraft. Also participating are Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1, a platoon from Riverine Squadron 1, a platoon from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5, staff from commander, Task Force 73, Destroyer Squadron 7 and the 7th Fleet Band Orient Express.