JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --
Now that war is winding down in Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of the Navy is refocusing on its role in defending our nation’s freedom. As part of the refocus on the naval mission, sailors and Marines now spend more time planning and conducting amphibious operations in an effort to maintain force readiness.
In the area of the St Johns River, Marines with Combat Logistics Regiment 25 under the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade are working with the Navy’s Naval Beach Group Two under Expeditionary Strike Group Two during a Maritime Prepositioning Force Exercise around the St. Johns River during the month of August.
The exercise is one part of the year’s largest amphibious exercise on the East Coast named as Bold Alligator 2014. MPFEX brought Marines and sailors together to train in order to be prepared to support the National Military Strategy.
In order to meet the demands of this strategy, the Marine Corps is currently planning and implementing Expeditionary Force 21. The concept calls for the Marines to have standing command elements known as Marine Expeditionary Brigades on the East and West Coast and one in the Asian-Pacific region. MEBs must be capable of providing a scalable forward presence capable of command within 96 hours and be prepared to handle varying crisis and contingencies, which may arise – the MPF supports both of these requirements.
This year’s MPFEX is the first time in 12 years that the Navy has conducted a training exercise with the current number of units supporting on the East Coast, which is three; and 15 years for the Marines.
Sailors and Marines are off-loading equipment for the exercise from the U.S. Navy Ship Seay, located off the mouth of the St. Johns River and transporting the vehicles and equipment with lighterage craft, by sailors with Amphibious Construction Battalion Two, to the beach on MCSF Blount Island, where Marines with CLR-25 pull the gear off the craft and stage it ashore.
“We’re trying to get as much gear off the ship and onto the beach as possible,” said Capt. Glenn Shea, the off-load liaison officer for the Marines.
Shea said the in-stream method is a very beneficial and flexible method of operating. In a humanitarian aid mission, if a country’s port is destroyed, this method allows units to provide aid by using the lighterage craft. Additionally, changes to the original plan can be implemented easily, without causing too much of a hindrance to the mission.
The flexibility of in-streaming helps with overcoming obstacles. One of the main obstacles seen during the exercise is the constant change in weather.
“The biggest obstacle to overcome is just working around the weather,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer James Miller, the ship supervisor with Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One, Navy Expeditionary Logistics Support Command. “Already two days this week we haven’t been able to lift anything because the weather was so bad the ship was rocking back and forth and so the crane was rocking back and forth, and we couldn’t lift anything.”
On the good days, many of the Marines and sailors were able to have their first opportunity at this type of training. With forces re-focusing on maritime operations for the first time in a decade, this type of gear re-supply has been a first for many of the service members.
“It’s basically a normal training evolution for us,” said Lance Cpl. Sarah Brown, a heavy equipment operator with CLR-25. “The only difference now is that we’re doing it on a moving ship. Most of us have not off-loaded a ship, so we have to really watch how it’s done. I was nervous at first because I’ve never off-loaded a ship, and it is heavy equipment on a moving ship. But, after you just watch how it’s done and have trust in the ground guides, it’s just like any other training. Any type of change from our everyday training back in the rear is a good feeling and an awesome experience.”
At the end of the exercise, the USNS Seay will be offloaded onto the shore at MCSF Blount Island, which includes vehicles and containers used to transport equipment. The Marines will also conduct a “splash” operation, which is driving amphibious assault vehicles to shore off of MPF ship.
"This level of exercise is the first of its kind in years,” said Cmdr. Michael O’Driscoll, the off-load control officer with Assault Craft Unit Two, Naval Beach Group Two. “Because we don’t get to do this type of training that often, we brought additional personnel out here so they could gain the experience and get hands on training under these circumstances. I think it’s working very well and better than what we expected.”