ABOARD USS WHIDBEY ISLAND -- The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), along with amphibious forces from Spain and Egypt, performed a coordinated beach assault north of Mubarak Military City, Egypt Oct. 23. The demonstration was the culmination of more than two weeks of coalition training during Exercise Bright Star 01-02.
For those who participated in the training, it seemed to carry a much greater significance than a routine training exercise given the events of September 11, 2001.
"It [the amphibious demonstration] served to illustrate that a coalition of nations were able to set aside religious beliefs, politics, and doctrinal differences and conduct professional military training," said Kilo Company Commander, Capt. Todd S. Tomko, of the multi-national exercise.
Attended by dozens of international media representatives and high-ranking dignitaries, including the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Alford L. McMichael, the demonstration further illustrated the synergy and interoperability that exists between the professional militaries of the United States and her allies in times of crisis. It further showed that coalition forces were certainly capable of projecting a robust combat presence ashore in a very short period of time.
"The whole world is covered in water, we can assault an objective from anywhere," said Sgt. John Dominic Barto IV, Battalion Landing Team 3/6 Amphibious Assault Vehicle Platoon assistant section leader. "Over land and through the water, no problem."
Although the event was merely a demonstration and not an exercise, it was no less significant. Egyptian forces conducted heliborne assaults from U.S. and Spanish shipping and came over the beach in Egyptian Topaz Amphibious Assault Vehicles. The ability to orchestrate a simultaneous assault from the air and the sea with three different countries each with their own unique tactics, techniques and procedures required seamless coordination and planning to yield success.
Anytime that you work closely with a foreign military force, you learn not only about them militarily, but also culturally," said Tomko. "You can develop a sense of the [other person's] individual capability and a sense of the resolve that the other nation's military may have."
And resolve has become an important issue to every American service member following the disasters of September '11th'. "That day will always mean 'change' for everyone," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Bradley J. Calender, BLT 3/6 religious planner. From that day forward, "many of us were unsure of what the future held."
As a religious planner for his battalion, Calender's job allows him to be somewhat of an authority on troop morale. He said he since the MEU became one cohesive unit in March of this year, he has noticed dramatic changes in his Marines' morale.
"The camaraderie and morale of this unit really picked up and started moving in a positive direction," said Calender.
Sgt. John Dominic Barto IV, Battalion Landing Team 3/6 Amphibious Assault Vehicle Platoon assistant section leader, sees the motivation of his Marines everyday, but especially when they have a mission to perform. "I love it when it's go time," said the Belton, Mo., native. "We train to win wars, pure and simple."
Bright Star gave the Marines a chance to get back to the field and train after a couple of months at home and at sea. And for an infantry battalion, the ability to leave the ships and train on solid ground certainly raised the Marines' morale and kept it high.
As the commander of a mechanized infantry company, Tomko said the desert environment "afforded us the opportunity to spread our wings and operate."
Being amphibious and being a Marine go hand-in-hand, Barto surmised. There will always be a place for Marines and their primary mission: amphibious operations. "The whole world is covered in water, and we can assault an objective from anywhere. Land and water -- no problem."
Few things are certain in the world today. With nearly 75% of the world's population living within the littoral regions [within 200 nautical miles of the coast], the need to be able to seize an objective in a hostile foreign land from the sea is a certainly. Through the regular execution of coalition exercises such as Bright Star, the United States and her allies will continue to refine and improve their ability to integrate amphibious forces into challenging beach assaults just like this one.
If it is true that history often repeats itself, America can be sure that its 26th MEU (SOC) Marines will be trained and ready to fight and do what must be done just as Marines have done for 226 years.