OFF THE COAST OF MOROCCO -- The U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, Sam Kaplan, along with senior members of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces and the commanding general of U.S. Africa Command, Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, spent an afternoon with members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group aboard the USS Iwo Jima, April 16, to learn about the unique capabilities of the amphibious assault ship and the Marines who operate from it.
Also with the group were Marine Maj. Gen. Rex McMillian, commander of 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, and Marine Brig. Gen. Charles Chiarotti, deputy commander of Marine Forces Africa and Marine Forces Europe. The visit was part of a key leader engagement between Americans and Moroccans as the bi-lateral training exercise African Lion 12 comes to a close. Over the past 10 days, Marines from the 24th MEU have launched from all three ships of the Iwo Jima ARG to conduct a variety of training exercises with the Moroccan military, which included live-fire ranges, classes on weapons and tactics, and familiarization with the Marine Corps’ assault amphibious vehicles. The visitors were picked up and brought out to the ship after a quick ride on two of the 24th MEU’s MV-22 Ospreys. The commanders of the 24th MEU, Iwo Jima ARG and USS Iwo Jima hosted the ambassador and Moroccan officers for lunch while Ham, McMillian and Chiarotti ate with junior Marines and sailors on the mess deck. After lunch, the visitors gathered in the ship’s hangar bay where Kaplan and Ham spoke a few words to the troops before speaking personally with dozens of Marines who waited to show off the weapons and equipment that enable them to accomplish the MEU’s various missions. snipers, mortarmen and assaultmen from the MEU’s infantry component displayed rifles, rockets, mortars and optics while artillerymen from 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, discussed their newest weapon, the 120 mm towed mortar system. Col. Frank Donovan, the 24th MEU commanding officer, grabbed an opportunity in the ship’s well deck to explain the particulars of the MEU/ARG team’s amphibious capabilities to Kaplan. “The ambassador represents the face of America in a foreign country,” said Donovan. “Ambassador Kaplan created this opportunity to train with Royal Moroccan Armed Forces and, as the first MEU to participate in Exercise African Lion, it was a great way to not only say thank you but also show him the capabilities and capacities of the Navy and Marine Corps expeditionary team.” One of the key goals of Exercise African Lion is to promote partnership between each nation’s militaries. With a long deployment still in front of him, the 24th MEU commanding officer expressed his gratitude to his Moroccan guests. “We’re leaving Morocco with seven-and-a-half months ahead of us, better trained for what’s ahead because of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces,” said Donovan.