The Philippine Star

US strike force visits Subic, Manila

- – Jaime Laude

The United States Navy’s USS John C. Stennis Strike Group (JCSSG), which has been conducting freedom of navigation operations in the West Philippine Sea, docked in Manila yesterday after visiting Subic the previous day.

The strike group consists of aircraft carrier John C. Stennis (CVN 74); embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9; Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 21; embarked, guided-missile destroyers USS Stockdale (DDG 106); USS Chung Hoon (DDG 93); and USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53). “This is a great opportunit­y for our sailors to see the sights and experience the warm hospitalit­y of the Filipino people. Many of our sailors look forward to reconnecti­ng with family and friends in the local area, “Rear Admiral Marcus Hitchcock, JCSSG commander, was quoted as saying by Ensign Emily Wilkin of the JCSSG’s Public Affairs.

The JCSSG, a ready force of the 7th Fleet, has been deployed since January to maintain regional peace amid increasing tension in the West Philippine Sea.

The strike group also took part in this year’s joint Phl-US Balikatan Exercises last April.

Last week, China scrambled two of its fighter jets to intercept USS William P. Lawrence while the ship was conducting freedom of navigation operations 12 nautical miles from Fiery Cross Reef, an artificial island in the disputed Spratlys archipelag­o where Beijing has built a 3,000-meter long runway and other military support facilities.

China’s aggressive action was followed when its fighter jets once again carried out an “unsafe” intercepti­on of a US military plane while on maritime reconnaiss­ance in internatio­nal airspace over South China Sea on Tuesday.

China claims almost the entire West Philippine Sea, and to back this claim, it transforme­d several obscure maritime features in the disputed region into man-made islands where it built runways, seaports and other support infrastruc­tures.

The USS John C. Stennis strike group has approximat­ely 8,500 sailors, 238 of them of Filipino heritage.

In the case of USS Stockdale, the guided-missile destroyer is headed by Cmdr. Raphael Castillejo, who was born in Makati and migrated with his family as a boy to the US.

Logistics Specialist First Class Don Salamero, who was born and raised in Daet, Camarines Sur, is among the thousands of crewmember­s of the USS John C. Stennis.

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