USS MESA VERDE, At Sea --
Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Sailors aboard the USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) conducted a defense of the amphibious task force drill during a strait transit as part of the Amphibious Ready Group Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise Dec. 13, 2016.
The ship conducts strait transits when it passes through a narrow body of water such as a channel or canal, or anytime the ship is bounded by land on both sides. During this time the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, which consists of USS Bataan (LHD 5), USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) and USS Carter Hall (LSD 50), will position itself into ‘ARG form one,’ where the ships align vertically.
As the ship commences a strait transit, the vessel is placed in a heightened security posture. The Navy’s small caliber arms team is employed and Marines are sent out to augment and reinforce the Sailors for DATF. Both Marines and Sailors man weapon systems to provide security for all directions of the ship.
“We simulate being overseas and practice now so we know how we’re going to react versus not knowing what to do when we’re deployed and have a real threat,” said Lt.j.g. Gabriella Davida, a surface warfare officer with USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19).
The time a ship travels a strait may vary, but for simulated exercises they usually last three to four hours. Within that time, the ship will face several scenarios. Fast attack crafts and fast inbound attack crafts engage the vessel to see how Marines and Sailors will respond.
“Being able to make and learn from our mistakes during these scenarios will pay off huge in the end,” said 1st Lt. Benjamin Zeiss, a Combined Anti-Armor Team commander with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “What we take away from this training will make us more efficient for deployment.”
While Marines are disembarked from the vessel, the Sailors are responsible for protecting their ship, but while Marines are aboard they are able to provide an extra layer of defense. Even while Marines and Sailors are being employed together, there is still a lot they can learn from each other. Marines are specifically trained on their weapon systems, whereas, Sailors that are members of SCAT take on the position as a collateral duty.
“Most of our SCAT members belong to other divisions and are trained and fully qualified on the weapon systems, but are not subject matter experts,” said Davida. “We’re definitely using the Marines to our advantage as far as learning from them and having them as that support element.”
Depending on the threat level detected, the ship’s commanding officer determines what type of DATF package is necessary. These packages, heavy, medium and light, provide flexibility for the commander. Each package varies on the amount of Marines it provides as well as the types of weapon systems they bring to the table.
In addition to tying into and complimenting naval assets, the MEU utilizes its aviation combat element for observation and information collection of foreign vessels. Aircraft are often the first to know the origin of the craft and whether it’s armed with weapons or not. For these reasons, communication with pilots is vital.
Marines and Sailors are in the midst of ARGMEUEX where they’ve conducted two simulated strait transits thus far. Throughout the three-week training evolution, the ARG and MEU have completed a wide range of operations and scenarios improving their overall ability to conduct amphibious warfare operations with each other.
“These Marines have shown me they work like a well-oiled machine,” said Davida. “You would think we’ve been underway together for months, and we’re only going to get better from here on out.”
ARGMEUEX, being an expeditionary operations training group led exercise, EOTG evaluates the Marines abilities to conduct missions and refines the unit’s standard operating procedures. By completing these mission essential tasks the unit becomes certified and is capable of conducting missions on their upcoming deployment.
“I have one hundred percent confidence in my Marines and their abilities to operate in a deployed environment,” said Zeiss. “You train, and train and train, and at some point you’re ready to play in the game.”
These EOTG led exercises, a part of the pre-deployment ‘work-ups’, enable the MEU to demonstrate its capabilities and see where it stands as an expeditionary force. ARGMEUEX is the MEU’s third work-up leading up to their final exercise in January, the composite training unit exercise or COMTUEX. The unit is slated to deploy early next year.