ST. GEORGE – The United States Marine Corps 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit completed a ground realistic urban training last night in St. George in preparation for its upcoming WESTPAC 13-2 deployment.
The training mission
The MEU mission involved a fictional bomb IED-making facility in the St. George area, which the Marines called the “country of black,” for purposes of the exercise. It included terrorists and high-value targets and the unit’s goal was to capture the targets and destroy the facility.
Maj. A.J. Goldberg said that members of the MEU had been at the target scene for two weeks prior, staging the compound on the Shivwits Band of Paiute Indians’ Reservation, acting out surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering at the location.
In the following video, Goldberg describes the staged mission; story continues below
Videocast by A.J. Mellor, St. George News
Goldberg and 1st Lt. Dana Mitchell described some of the roleplaying involved: Scraps of paper with information would be found by Marines doing reconnaissance. In the prior two days, a white truck might come and go from the fictional compound, providing valuable intel to the guys doing reconnaissance. Others would fast-rope out of the Ospreys and form a defensive perimeter before clearing the compound.
The “country of red?” That would be Arizona, Goldberg said, possibly a country from which materials were channeling into the “country of black” for its undesirable operations.
They definitely did accomplish the mission, Staff Sgt. Matthew Orr said on Friday.
The first aircraft in was the KC-130J Hercules carrying senior members of the 13th MEU, and Marines and Sailors establishing a communications tent for intelligence coordination between the target site at Shivwits and the incoming Marines and Sailors.
The KC-130J, also referred to as the C130, has a range of 1,000 nautical miles on a tanker mission, 2,875 nautical miles on a cargo mission. It contains fuel bladders that were filled sufficient to refuel all the Ospreys involved in the mission.
Four MV-22B Ospreys flew in for refueling. The Ospreys have a range capability of 600 nautical miles unrefueled, have a short landing vertical variant, and the ability to carry 20,000 pounds of internal cargo / 15,000 pounds of external cargo.
“The Osprey has revolutionized our sphere of influence,” Maj. Glenn Stuart said. Sphere of influence involves the distance the MEU units are able to cover from a command launch.
Following the Ospreys came the CH-53E Super Stallion, the “heavy lift” of the Marine Corps. The CH53 has the capability to lift itself, Glenn said; in other words, it can actually lift another CH53, or it can lift two humvees as another of many examples.
Why St. George?
The St. George region as a training ground, although reminiscent of mission grounds like Afghanistan, most importantly afforded the 13th MEUs unfamiliar territory that required them to travel 340 nautical miles away from their launch at El Centro, Calif., to practice a high-entry raid on a fictional compound and leave with an objective of a 1.5 hour turnaround in the St. George region.
“It’s a new area, it gives us an opportunity to train outside of our comfort zone,” Maj. Chris Taylor said. The region allowed for a local, land-based mission, that the unit could go into, execute and return to California in about four hours.
Military use of the St. George Airport
Military use of the St. George Municipal Airport involves no income or expense to the airport or the City of St. George, and such use is common, although not on such a visible scale as this training exercise.
“We’re actually an emergency landing field for Nellis Air Force Base,” Airport Operations Supervisor Brad Kitchen said, as well as indexed for Aircraft Rescue Firefighters. He said that a lot of military training goes on in the skies over St. George – when you see circles in the skies, they are usually indicative of military training going on up there.
The airport is jointly funded by the city and the federal government, weighted on the side of the federal government particularly as to maintenance. Its operations are self-sustaining, Kitchen said.
“We have to let everyone use the airport,” he said, “we have to keep it open for any user who wants to use it.” And, “we are doing things out at the airport that we could never have done at the old airport because of the size of it, we could never have landed a C130 at the old airport.”
Training at Shivwits Reservation
The military does a lot of training at the Shivwits Reservation. They call it an MOA or military operations airspace, Kitchen said, which is an airspace the military is able to train in – it is nonexclusive to the military.
“One reason (the 13th MEU) chose St. George is because we’re so close to the MOA,” Kitchen said. “It doesn’t cost us anything to let them use it, they come in and they run the operation, the only thing they use is the runway and ramp area, they come in and keep everything clean and leave it the way it was when they go.”
Benefit to St. George
In addition to the positive public relations aspect of such training in St. George, Kitchen said he thinks it’s a benefit to have the MEU train here, giving them familiarity with our facility which would be a positive thing in the event they should ever be needed in response to a natural disaster or a terrorist attack in or near to this area.
Likewise, the mission allowed local fire rescue personnel to gain familiarity with the military’s assets.
“Our fire rescue personnel met with them and saw the KC130 and learned where the fuel shut-off systems, the power systems, the hydraulic systems are,” Kitchen said, “so if anything did occur here – our first job is to save lives, we’re a first response unit that goes in – first thing we do is get bodies out of the aircraft and start shutting down systems to keep people safe – so if anything happened one day we are now familiar with the aircraft.”
The MEUs take pride in being America’s force for readiness, for rapid contingency response, Mitchell said.
“The Marines are America’s 911 force,” Maj. Chris Taylor said.
Of the seven MEU units – three based on each of the West and East Coasts and one based in Japan – the 13th MEU is stationed at Camp Pendleton in California and is currently preparing for deployment in the fall of 2013 to the Western Pacific.
The MEUs have a unique synergy of combat elements: aviation, logistics and ground. They excel in logistics and tactical missions, serving in combat, humanitarian needs such as disaster relief and embassy operations in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State.
What is unique about the MEUs is that they are trained to do anything, Capt. E.T. “Ted” Vickers said, as opposed to training with a more specific – and in that sense limited – training focus that comes with units which are mission-specific; for example, training specifically to going into Afghanistan.
“We can do anything,” Vickers said.
Their tactical capabilities are many. One is their ability to purify water sufficient to serve thousands and thousands, Mitchell said, as they did in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake; or dealing with radiological issues as they did in Operation Tonodachi with Japan’s nuclear plant, Stuart said. And extractions, as they did in Liberia.
“What makes us most relevant is that we’re Navy based,” Glenn said.
The MEU teams up with the Navy’s Amphibious Ready Group, which squadrons, called PHIBRONs, each include three ships: an amphibious assault ship, an amphibious transport dock, and a dock landing ship.
The MEU supports the PHIBRON with its GCE Battalion Landing Team, ACE Composite Squadron and LCE Combat Logistics Battalion – in other words, ground, aviation and logistics.
Some of the MEU combat missions have been Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Desert, Operation United Shield in Somalia in 1995.
MEU humanitarian aid missions have included Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.
And extraction missions in coordination with the State Department have included evacuation of the Lebanon Embassy, reinforcement at the Albanian Embassy and Operation Safe Departure in Eritrea.
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