BY KRISHNA JACKSON- SAN DIEGO – In the early hours of Sept. 9, San Diego based USS Dubuque (LPD 8) with an embarked team from 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Maritime Raid Force (MRF) boarded the foreign shipping vessel, M/V Magellan Star in the Gulf of Aiden after it was seized by pirates.
“When you consider the fact that the U.S. was a maritime trading nation in our infancy, we have always been concerned with protecting our ships and trade routes,” said Col. Tim Fitzgerald, I MEF Operations Officer. “The maritime raid capability goes all the way back to when the U.S. Navy landed U.S. Marines on the Barbary Coast to engage pirates attacking U.S. shipping in the area.”
This was the first official anti-piracy mission since the MRF and the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) were certified as a ready response force to piracy prior to their deployment but the planning and training began about a year ago after the attack on the Maersk Alabama.
“The need for this type of response to piracy came after Boxer ARG’s deployment involved rescuing the Captain of Maersk Alabama,” said Marine Corps Col. Ronald R. Duff, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) Three deputy commander. “Despite having a Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked, the decision was made to employ special operations forces to effect the rescue.”
During the 2010 Warfighter Talks, Commander, U.S. Third Fleet, Vice Adm. Richard W. Hunt and Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford pushed for a proof of concept program that would embark a Navy and Marine Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) capability with the deploying ARG/MEUs. The training would result in a VBSS certification prior to an ARG/MEU’s deployment and would be included in the regular training cycle.
“This concept went all the way up to the CNO and Commandant of the Marine Corps and with their support training got underway almost immediately,” said Lt. Timothy King, ESG Three Force Protection officer.
The Peleliu ARG with amphibious ships USS Peleliu (LHA 5), USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) and Dubuque were designated as the first ARG in recent years to have a certified VBSS/MRF team trained to execute anti-piracy operations during their scheduled 2010 deployment to 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility.
“The training is extensive to develop the maritime raid capability,” said Fitzgerald. “The focus starts with small steps training individual personnel (Marines and Sailors). Then the training shifts to the collective portion where actions are synchronized.”
The individual training of the VBSS/MRF’s complex mission includes driving the assault craft, repelling from helicopters, boarding the vessel and breaching compartments aboard the vessel. It is critical that all parts of the mission be synchronized, from coordinating the aircraft overhead to the precise timing of the VBSS/MRF via surface or air delivery.
“It is the planning and repetitive training events between the blue/green teams. It is this habitual cohesive relationship that is fostered during the workups that enables the ARG/MEU to execute these complex mission capabilities,” said Fitzgerald.
VBSS teams are regularly deployed on cruisers, destroyers, and frigates as part of counter drug-trafficking operations and the concept was modified and applied to counter-piracy operations. Peleliu ARG’s VBSS teams started training for their certification exercise, which included extensive Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat (RHIB) handling at Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va. RHIBs are an essential part of getting the team from the ship to the seized vessel in order for the VBSS/MRF team to board and retake the vessel from the pirates.
The certification exercise took place in April of this year and was the final qualification for the ARG. They deployed in May and have been conducting operations and sustainment missions in the Gulf of Aiden and the Arabian Gulf.
“The ability to project responsive and flexible power from the sea is one of the hallmarks of our naval character,” said Fitzgerald. “By reemphasizing the maritime raid capability, we are knocking the rust off of an old capability that we believe the combatant commanders need and want.”
USS Boxer ARG is the next amphibious team to deploy from Third Fleet with embarked 13th MEU and is currently going through the same certification process to ready them for their upcoming deployment in support of counter-piracy operations.
Media interested in covering USS Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s training and certification for counter-piracy operations should contact Third Fleet Public Affairs at (619) 767-4382.
For additional photos of the event, please visit the Counter-Piracy Operations Gallery at http://www.navy.mil/view_galleries.asp.
MC1(SW) Krishna Jackson is with the Third Fleet Public Affairs