Photo Information

A CH-53E Super Stallion Helicopter departs the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Leroy Grumman after inserting Marines with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Visit Board Search Seizure (VBSS) security force while the USS Ponce provides support for a Maritime Interception Operation exercise as part of Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), July 14, 2010. 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 4 conducted the three-week exercise in preparation for their deployment later this fall. During COMPTUEX, 26th MEU will prepare for its Certification Exercise in August by integrating and finalizing communication and mission procedures.

Photo by Sgt. Jesse J. Johnson

26th MEU raid force integrates with Navy to conduct Maritime Interception Operation exercise

16 Jul 2010 | Lance Cpl. Santiago G. Colon Jr.

The suspect ship cannot be seen on the horizon, but the Marines and sailors aboard USS Kearsarge know what kind of vessel it is and what the crews’ intentions might be.

As they near the possible threat, the Navy ship holding sailors and Marines works quickly to prepare and insert their raid force onboard the suspect vessel.

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit Marines climb aboard Navy MH-60S Seahawk and Marine CH-53E Super Stallion Helicopters and within minutes are fast-roping out of the hovering aircraft onto the possible bandit ship.

This may seem like a script straight out of a blockbuster movie, but for the 26th MEU Maritime raid force, this was the scenario during a Maritime Interception Operation exercise launched from the ships of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group during Composite Training Unit Exercise, July 16.

Like similar training events during pre-deployment training, including one at a facility on land in Barnwell, S.C., in late June, the goal of the exercise was to provide integrated and sustainment training in the areas of breaching, fast-roping, team close-quarters maneuvering, and ship control for the raid force and ship control team sailors.

Marines with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit worked in cooperation with Amphibious Squadron 4 and Kearsarge sailors as well as instructors with Special Operations Training Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, to rehearse the Visit, Board, Search and Seizure.

The difference from the event at Barnwell, though, was the practicality of exercising their skills aboard an actual ship sailing on the ocean, said Sgt. Matthew L. Kubena, a reconnaissance Marine with Special Operations Training Group (SOTG).

“The mission of this training event is to integrate with the Navy,” said Kubena. He added besides the obvious difference from exercising on land and on a ship the COMPTUEX MIO exercise allows Marines to work closely with their Navy counterparts just like they would in an actual non-compliant ship situation.

“We got to work with the Navy and work with air assets to get a big picture and figure out where the kinks are,” added Kubena.

For the first phase of the mission, the Navy conducted detection and surveillance of possible vessels of interest. The next phase was a detailed assessment and shadowing of the suspect vessel and determination of its crew's compliance. If a non-compliant determination is met by the PHIBRON-4 commander and the MEU commander, the decision is made to commence a non-compliant boarding of the suspect ship, said Major Giles D. Walger, officer in charge for Reconnaissance and Surveillance Branch, SOTG, II MEF.

“In this case for the 26th MEU we are doing a top-down, non-compliant boarding in daytime conditions,” added Walger.

The opportunity to perform their skills aboard an actual ship allowed the Marines and sailors to take a big step forward in the training process, said Walger.

Ship passageways and spaces are extremely narrow and become more difficult for Marines to maneuver through when they are wearing combat gear. This training reinforced lessons from the Barnwell training to prepare the Marines to overcome these kinds of challenges should they execute this kind of mission.

Aboard the ship, the Marines encountered role-players offering varying degrees of compliance. The force also had to overcome language barriers and had to verify identification of people inside.

As the MEU prepares to deploy, conducting this type of training prepares them to face real situations.

This training gives the commander the flexibility and capability to provide senior leadership with a boarding force that will be ready to face real threats during deployment, said Walger.