CAMP Kinser, Okinawa, Japan -- Marines and Sailors with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3d Marine Logistics Group, honed their Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations capabilities and “Fight Now” concepts in support of III Marine Expeditionary Force, on training areas throughout Okinawa during exercise Pacific Pioneer, April 8-23, 2021.
Pacific Pioneer served as an opportunity to rehearse Marine Air-Ground Task Force and joint integration as well as fulfilling training and readiness requirements for the battalion’s semi-annual Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation.
According to 9th ESB’s operations officer, Major Brian Kujawski, the 2019 planning guidance and re-emphasis on naval integration concepts from 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, were a key focus of the exercise.
“Throughout Pacific Pioneer, Navy Seabees with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4 were integrated down to the platoon and squad-level across the entire battlespace, providing intelligence integration, reconnaissance support, non-standard bridging expertise, and vertical and horizontal construction support,” said Kujawski. “Their ability to seamlessly operate within Marine formations was key in allowing us to establish survivable command, control, and logistics nodes in every area of our training.”
The exercise began with an Engineer Reconnaissance Team comprising 9th ESB Marines and NMCB-4 Sailors, known as Seabees, deploying via assault support aircraft to training areas on Ie Shima and Jungle Warfare Training Center. This integrated team immediately began preparations for the establishment of the battalion forward presence. Upon receiving their simulated mission, the battalion began operational planning and echeloned subordinate forces to multiple training areas across the island prefecture.
The battalion deliberately crafted command post operations to be conducted without any standard internet services, forcing communications through redundant and lower-signature means to allow the battalion to command and control through mission type orders and a focus on decentralized execution at the company and platoon-level. The scenario was built to split Okinawa into four separate islands, forcing creative planning to overcome tactical-level engineer and logistics problems that commonly arise when conducting dispersed operations. The battalion’s forward headquarters was also purposefully placed on the island of Ie Shima to add a realistic planning dynamic associated with moving personnel and equipment across littoral waterways via ferries, simulated “land bridges”, and assault support aircraft.
“Each company essentially controlled their own ‘island’s’ warfighting functions, and provided once daily situation reports during pre-arranged communications windows,” explained Capt. Samuel Houghtling, 9th ESB’s assistant operations officer. “The intent was to give the commanders on the ground the necessary breathing room to solve complex problems with their teams, while the staff and commanding officer liaised with higher and adjacent headquarters to answer resource shortfalls and push support to subordinate units as needed.”
With established forward basing, along with command and control structure, the battalion began executing missions with support from Combat Logistics Regiment 37, Combat Logistics Battalion 4, 3d Landing Support Battalion, as well as key units from across the MEF in Marine Wing Support Squadron 172 and 12th Marine Regiment.
Training included engineer reconnaissance and provisional infantry maneuvers at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, survivability, mobility and counter-mobility operations, support to forward arming and refueling points with bulk fuel Marines attached to MWSS-172, tactical-level bulk fuel operations, air delivery operations, and explosive ordnance disposal exploitation training.
The exercise also demonstrated the integration of Seabees alongside Bridge Company during conventional bridging operations at Naha Military Port. This joint element practiced supporting the movement of long-range precision fires over littoral waterways, transporting a 12th Marine Regiment High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and Joint Light Tactical Vehicle via an improved ribbon bridge. Bridge Company used this training venue as an opportunity to certify mission essential training standards before full divestment of conventional bridging capability takes effect later this year.
“While we still own the equipment, we must be ready to use it in a fight at any moment,” said Capt. Brian Hundley, Bridge Company commander. “During Pacific Pioneer, we successfully conducted conventional rafting for one JLTV and one HIMARS, maneuvering the HIMARS asset to a notional forward location where it could have a better effect on the enemy from an area it would otherwise be unable to reach.”
Throughout the exercise, 9th ESB faced a notional adversary threat that tested a number of legacy methods for fuel distribution across the battlespace. The battalion reconfigured its existing Amphibious Assault Fuel System into smaller, conceptual Modular Fuel Systems, and dispersed them across a much wider space in order to increase survivability and gain redundancy in support of refueling ground and aviation assets. Additionally, the battalion designed the conceptual MFS to be interoperable with heavy motor transportation assets, allowing them to achieve a distributed network of fuel capabilities robust enough to bring 2.7 million gallons of fuel ashore.
“The lines of effort employed by Bulk Fuel Company throughout the last year and during this exercise are informing service-level reorganization and capability development initiatives. The Marines’ outside-the-box thinking and innovation will continue to have a substantial impact on future concepts of support for transporting bulk fuel,” said Captain Dorothy Hernandez, Bulk Fuel Company Commander.
Throughout the operation, the battalion combat operations center on Ie Shima continued to provide command and control, adapting and overcoming a simulated communications-degraded environment.
“Simply put, I am proud to say that the Marines and Sailors surpassed my expectations. During Pacific Pioneer, we enabled MEF operations by generating engineering effects throughout the operating environment in order to set conditions for the MEF to conduct shaping and decisive operations against the exercise enemy,” said Lt. Col. Paul Bock, commanding officer of 9th ESB. “Pacific Pioneer reinforced our strong relationship with the Seabees; highlighting the power of the Navy and Marine Corps Team, coming together to form a Naval engineer force that supports the MEF and the Fleet.”
3d MLG, based out of Okinawa, Japan, is a forward-deployed combat unit that serves as III Marine Expeditionary Force’s comprehensive engineer and combat service support backbone for operations throughout the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility.