KEFLAVIK, ICELAND --
U.S. Marine Corps explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operators from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (26MEU(SOC)) participated in Exercise Northern Challenge 2023 alongside various NATO Allies and partners, Sept. 21 to Oct. 5.
Northern Challenge 2023 is an annual, Icelandic Coast Guard-led exercise, designed to provide the most modernized explosive ordnance disposal training in the world. This year’s iteration featured 16 nations, over 400 participants, and marked the first time the U.S. Marine Corps participated in the exercise. Participating nations included: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States.
During the training, participants responded to two ‘calls,’ a term for responding to an explosive threat, each day. Throughout the training, each situation became increasingly more complex, adding multiple, simulated, improvised explosive devices (IED) for the operators to safely neutralize while a thinking adversary countered their procedures to challenge their problem-solving skills and provide a more realistic, threat-informed, scenario-based training environment.
“This was a great experience for the Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 22 (CLB-22). The exercise challenged our team with dynamic and relevant EOD scenarios put together by professionals in the field,” said Master Sgt. George Cardenas, EOD chief of 26MEU(SOC) Logistics Combat Element. “The combination of so many varying experiences, perspectives and tactics, techniques, and procedures, creates a challenging and professionally rewarding learning environment that ultimately makes us better warfighters for the 26MEU(SOC).”
Along with the EOD teams, each country provided a national and international proctor to watch over teams as they solved various threat-informed problem sets. The inclusion of proctors allowed for in-depth collaboration between participants and encouraged discussions on best practices and tactics, techniques and procedures.
“Participating in Northern Challenge has allowed us to become intimately familiar with the way NATO manages EOD operations including tasking, reporting, and information gathering,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas Jones, the Officer-In-Charge of the 26MEU(SOC) EOD element in Iceland. “The exercise and experiences here allows us to exchange knowledge and build stronger relationships with our partners. More so, our participation in exercises like Northern Challenge leads to better interoperability and integration with our NATO partners and EOD operations in the future.”
Northern Challenge 23 provided an opportunity for participants to share ideas and tactics, better equipping them to neutralize modern explosive threats, and in-turn share these procedures and knowledge with members of their community in their respective units and countries.
“I am extremely proud of the exceptional performance of our EOD Marines, honing in on their craft and enhancing their warfighting readiness,” said LtCol Luke Sauber, commanding officer, CLB-22, 26MEU(SOC). “Participating in realistic, training scenarios enables the Marines from the MEU(SOC) Logistics Combat Element to respond to real-world threats associated with the current and anticipated future operating environments where they may be dynamically tasked to operate. Our EOD Marines represented the 26MEU(SOC) in a positive light, marking the first time a contingent from the U.S. Marine Corps participated in Northern Challenge, a NATO-level exercise,” Sauber concluded.
The 26MEU(SOC) serves as one of the United States premier crisis response forces capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response, and limited contingency operations, to include enabling the introduction of follow-on-forces and designated special operations, in support of theater requirements of the Geographic Combatant Commander. Coupled with the USS Bataan ARG, the 26MEU(SOC) serves as a premier stand-in force with a full complement of all-domain capabilities to operate persistently within the littorals or weapons engagement zones of any adversary.
The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) has been deployed since Jul. 10. The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, USS Bataan (LHD-5); Harpers Ferry class dock landing ship, USS Carter Hall (LSD 50); and embarked 26MEU(SOC) have been operating in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command area of operations under the tactical command and control of Task Force 51/5. The USS Mesa Verde and embarked 26MEU(SOC), under the tactical command and control of Task Force 61/2, is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe area of operations, employed by U.S. Sixth Fleet to defend U.S., Allied, and partner interests.
Headquartered in Naples, Italy, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) operates U.S. naval forces in the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. U.S. Sixth Fleet is permanently assigned to NAVEUR-NAVAF, and employs maritime forces through the full spectrum of joint and naval operations.