PHILIPPINE SEA – The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard ships of the America Expeditionary Strike Group completed a series of sequential operations rehearsing naval expeditionary and Marine Air-Ground Task Force maneuver from Guam to Okinawa, Japan, March 21-28.
The Marine Corps’ 31st MEU and Navy’s Amphibious Squadron 11 coordinated the series of expeditionary rehearsals to demonstrate naval integration, flexibility, and readiness in sustainment operations and projection of combat power between island chains for the first time ever with a modern MEU, according to Col. Robert Brodie, 31st MEU commanding officer.
“This capstone exercise focused on full mission profiles from the air, land and sea - rehearsing and demonstrating lethal power projection both in blue water and littoral operations,” said Brodie. “The Marines and Sailors of our joint team came together to solve a comprehensive series of simulated problem sets and successfully completed a wide variety of combat-focused tactical missions.”
The training integrated capabilities across warfighting functions on completion of Expeditionary Strike Force training with the Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group, culminating with a series of missions. An expeditionary cargo-net debarkation proof of concept was followed by fighter aircraft and attack helicopter strike missions, amphibious insert of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) with follow-on shot simulation, mechanized raid and long-range vertical assault, forward arming and refueling points (FARP) establishment, defense of the amphibious task force drill, and split operations as forward command and control positioned ashore .
Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, completed the debarkation net rehearsal from the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) in Apra Harbor, Naval Base Guam, harkening back to a historic method of personnel movement with focus on safety, according to Master Sgt. Daniel Scull with Weapons Company, BLT 1/5, safety officer-in-charge for the event.
“This capability greatly enhances the 31st MEU’s ability to conduct increasingly dynamic tactical actions and operations across the Pacific,” said Scull. “Under the cover of darkness, specially-equipped Marine elements can debark onto a landing craft and insert uncontested onto small islands in the Pacific”.
On departure from Guam and in the Philippine Sea, F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft and AH-1Z Viper helicopters with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced) conducted a series of live-fire and strike mission profiles with AIM-9M missiles, GAU-22 25 mm cannons, and GBU-49 maritime strike bombs. The guided bombs hit a target simulating a maritime objective for the first time ever with an operational MEU in the Indo-Pacific region, according to F-35B detachment officer-in-charge Maj. Casey Jenkins.
“The GBU-49 adds a weapon to our arsenal that allows us to target fast-moving vessels on both the water and land,” said Jenkins. “The capabilities of this weapon have many practical applications and are a welcome addition to the F-35B’s weapons loadout.”
While on approach to Okinawa March 27, San Antonio class amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay (LPD 20) offloaded Alpha Company, BLT 1/5 aboard Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs) rehearsing a mechanized insert at Camp Schwab, while Landing Craft Air Cushion hovercraft unloaded a HIMARS system and the Combined Anti-Armor Team with Light Armored Reconnaissance Vehicles and new Joint Light Tactical Vehicles. The HIMARS emplaced at Camp Hansen and simulated missile shots with notional fire missions incorporating target data passed from an overhead F-35B, demonstrating the capability for long-range precision fire support during mobile operations, according to 31st MEU fires officer Maj. Brock Lennon.
“This exercise allowed us to demonstrate how we would use HIMARS in support of MEU maneuver elements. Being able to strike with long-range precision fires gives the MEU commander another lethal capability at his disposal when looking to respond to crisis in the region,” Lennon explained.
With conditions set, BLT 1/5’s Combined Anti-Armor Team and Mechanized Company, along with AH-1Z helicopters, rehearsed simultaneous FARPs in separate locations in the Okinawa Central Training Area supported by Combat Logistics Battalion 31, the logistics combat element for the 31st MEU. This marked the first time that a mechanized FARP was completed between AAVs and aircraft during 31st MEU training, according to CLB-31’s motor transport platoon commander, 1st Lt. Larry Gonzales.
“This demonstrates our ability as a MAGTF to push our capabilities and equipment like AAVs beyond traditional methods of employment, allowing us to extend our air and ground combat power ashore,” Gonzales explained.
While operations continued ashore, the overall scenario during transit between the island chains included simulated maritime threats met with a defense of the amphibious task force live-fire drill. During the drill, Marines fired at an inflatable “Killer Tomato” target with heavy and medium machine guns, sniper rifles, and other infantry small arms to rehearse defending the ship from enemy surface threats.
For the concluding event, Bravo Company conducted a vertical assault raid from America to a live-fire range in the Central Training Area to rehearse fire and maneuver while the 31st MEU inserted a Forward Command Element to rehearse forward command and control prepared for follow-on tasking, according to 31st MEU operations officer Lt. Col. Michael Mroszczak.
“Forward command and control facilitates decentralized decision making and rapid engagement of adversaries that attempt to close with our naval force,” said Mroszczak. “Any opportunity to put our command and control to the test results in improved processes and lessons learned.”
This recent exercise tested the MEU’s ability to conduct operations across all domains, ensuring total preparedness while posing dilemmas to potential adversaries through unmatched capabilities and creative blend of operations, according to Brodie.
"In uncertain times, Americans can have certainty that the 31st MEU is ready and globally-deployable to meet crisis head on," said Brodie. “I am proud of our Navy-Marine Corps, Blue-Green team, for rising to the challenges of these operations. This rehearsal demonstrated the 31st MEU’s agility, decisiveness, combat power, and physical strength, showcasing Marine Corps readiness to maintain security and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.”