One of the most inspiring aspects of being embarked on a ship for any Marine is to witness firsthand our shipmates’ mastery of their craft during complex operations at sea. To see Sailors “turning to” during flight operations or replenishment at sea is always a privilege. Unfortunately, most Sailors are unable to enjoy the same advantage of seeing Marines and Soldiers demonstrating the same level of skill at their own tasks because that typically happens over the horizon or across some distant beach.
If I could change one aspect of RIMPAC 2016, it would be to have a way for the embarked Sailors to see and appreciate what the nearly 4,000 Marines and Soldiers have been accomplishing ashore. This week I had the privilege of accompanying Commodore Jim Gilmour of the Royal New Zealand Navy, Commander CTF 176, into the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island of Hawaii to observe training being conducted by members of Provisional Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Hawaii. We came across a combined platoon-sized force made up of Australian and New Zealand soldiers as well as Tongan, Indonesian and U.S. Marines who were preparing for a live fire attack on a dug in enemy.
The range where the attack was to take place was located at approximately 6,000’ elevation over tough terrain. The entire evolution lasted over an hour and pushed Marines and soldiers to their physical limits. It was the culmination of weeks of hard training and integration by all involved.
The attack started with Australian snipers engaging targets 700 meters away as a Marine Corps machine gun section ran up a steep hill fully loaded with their guns and ammunition. In an instant, they had their guns in action and began suppressing the enemy. “The enemy” was a series of computerized pop-up targets dug into a distant hillside that only go down when they have actually been hit with a number of bullets. Suffice to say, targets were lying down quickly as the guns raked through their positions. Almost simultaneously, the remaining members of the platoon maneuvered into attack positions.
To the left of the machine guns, an Australian Army assault team scrambled up the hill and fired an 84mm rocket into what remained of the first enemy position. Within seconds, the sniper, machinegun and rocket fire lifted as Tongan and Kiwi squads overran the enemy. With that, the entire platoon began leap-frogging through sequential enemy positions deeper on the range. All were neutralized with great skill with everything from individual weapons, mortars and hand-grenades. The effort truly reflected the weeks of training and conditioning these individual soldiers and Marines committed to long before RIMPAC started but have been solidified by the last couple of weeks, by working closely together to ensure that the blended team functions as safely and as smoothly as possible.
Most of us who have been around the track a time or two know that the individual relationships fostered during RIMPAC at all levels, inspired first and foremost by mutual respect, have a way of paying off down the road in some real world contingency years from now that we cannot even imagine when we find an unexpected familiar face during times of high stress and high stakes.
In the interim, by working together, we are all gaining a more well-rounded perspective that will only lead to greater understanding and stability in the Pacific. RIMPAC 2016 is part of an enduring effort by the United States to grow relationships within the Pacific that first and foremost lead to stability and safety in the region. Stability starts with mutual understanding and respect at the individual level.
Having our Sailors and Marines get the chance to sail alongside and work shoulder-to-shoulder with peers at every level from 26 different nations, is the foundation of future stability. We have professionals from Seaman Apprentice to Lieutenant Generals who are working with their peers from the participating nations to solve complex problems and deliver safe and realistic training on a daily basis. The inevitable outcome of these sustained efforts during RIMPAC will be a foundation of mutual respect. Like any other relationship everything else grows from this foundation.
U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. David Bellon is Fleet Marine Officer to CTF 176 embarked aboard USS America for Rim of the Pacific 2016.
From Navy Live Blog, the official blog of the U.S. Navy: http://navylive.dodlive.mil/.