JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
A contingent of Marines and Sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 8 were busy from July 12-18, 2014, training for maritime interdiction operations at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
The event was part of Realistic Urban Training, the first major exercise in the 24th MEU’s pre-deployment training package, and focused largely on Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure, or VBSS, operations. VBSS operations serve as a routine, but crucial, capability of the 24th MEU and prepare Marines for missions that may require them to board a foreign vessel, search it for illegal cargo, and perhaps seize control of it and hand it over to a U.S. Navy ship control team.
VBSS operations are often categorized as opposed or unopposed. If unopposed, the U.S. Navy performs appropriate actions to visit and search the ship. If the crew opposes the visit or becomes hostile, the call goes to the 24th MEU’s Maritime Raid Force, a contingent of Force Reconnaissance Marines who are attached to the MEU to provide the MEU commander with a limited, organic special operations capability.
Captain Jason B. Hibler, the MRF’s 1st platoon commander, emphasized the importance of this training for his Marines.
“The biggest thing I need them to take out of this training is to be able to board a vessel, whether it’s via boats or via air, and board it as quickly as possible, clear it, and secure it, and get ready, if necessary, for a turnover with the Navy as soon as possible,” said Hibler.
The MRF previously trained for VBSS missions, but not as part of RUT, a training exercise designed to give the 24th MEU an opportunity to train in unfamiliar environments.
“For some of my Marines, this is a new type of training, but I’m fortunate to have a lot of experienced Marines who take charge and show them what to do,” said Sgt. Michael H. Blair, 1st Platoon team leader, and New Orleans native. “Some of these scenarios are even new to me, but we learned a lot from the Special Operations Training Group instructors who oversaw our training.”
SOTG, a group charged with training and evaluating the MEU prior to their deployment, challenged the Marines and Sailors by setting up realistic scenarios they could encounter when conducting VBSS missions.
Hibler seconded Blair’s appreciation for SOTG’s instruction.
“When we initially started this package, the Marines in the platoon had limited experience with SOTG. [SOTG] provided a wealth of knowledge to get my Marines to where they are now and [because of that guidance] they have become extremely proficient over the last few weeks.”
The 24th MEU’s Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 (Reinforced), provided assault support to the MRF from UH-1Y Hueys.
The Marines trained on actual ships in the James River along with real people as role players. The role players, both hostile and compliant, were given special effects small-arms marking systems, or SESAM, rounds - similar to a paintball - to mark the target and allow the shooters to evaluate their accuracy.
“Getting onto a ship really pays dividends in the long run, with going down into an engine room and getting used to the ladder wells, so I believe it’s very beneficial to us,” said Cpl. Joseph E. Snydsman, a Force Reconnaissance Scout with the MRF, and a Seattle, Wash., native. “It’s definitely more realistic than [yelling] ‘bang-bang’ because no one wants to get shot with SESAM rounds anyway. So you are definitely a little bit more on edge and paying a little more attention to what’s going on around you.”
After the MRF completed their mission, they were extracted by a combination of helicopters and rigid-hulled inflatable boats, or RHIBs, and returned to the command operations center for debriefing.
For the 24th MEU, RUT is a two-part exercise. The MEU will spend the rest of July conducting the second half of RUT, which will consist of land-based operations in and around North Carolina and Virginia.
The 24th MEU consists of approximately 2,500 Marines and Sailors. They are scheduled to deploy at the end of the year to support crisis response contingencies in the U.S. Africa, European, and Central Command areas of responsibility.