News: Marines make Bold Alligator count, gain experience
Story by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki
ABOARD USS KEARSARGE, At Sea – Since 9/11, the Marine Corps focused on engaging enemies in largely land-locked combat. Exercise Bold Alligator 2012, the largest amphibious exercise in a decade, was designed to revitalize the capabilities of the Navy and Marine Corps team in the full range amphibious operations.
“Anytime you can go from the sea to shore, that means we can be anywhere in the world in a matter of hours,” said Sgt. Maj. Paul T. Archie, the Regimental Landing Team 2 sergeant major. “Amphibious ops are very important in the art of war fighting, or peacekeeping, or whatever type of operation we have to do.”
The Marine Corps typically operates as a Marine Air-Ground Task Force capable of conducting operations from a sea base, like an Amphibious Ready Group, and maintaining a campaign on land. While the command element plans the overall operation, one of the first boots to step foot on shore typically comes from the ground combat element who utilize various amphibious crafts to get from the ship to the shore with all their required equipment.
“Our main mission is to support infantry ship-to-shore movements and carry on assault with whatever the infantry needs,” said Sgt. Devin S. Bisaccia, a section leader with 2nd Amphibian Assault Battalion, RLT-2. “Right now during Bold Alligator, that is loading the infantry on, attacking the beach with up to 36 AAVs in three waves. [Each AAV] can carry up to 21 infantry personnel plus three crew members.”
When they arrived on shore, the AAVs then provided covering fire to the infantry with their M2 .50 caliber machine guns and MK 19 automatic grenade launchers. According to Bisaccia, the AAVs have to land at a precise time called “H-Hour” which is coordinated so the troops can hit the enemy positions as soon as the naval and aerial bombardments are complete. Once ashore, the troops in the AAVs secure the beachhead.
“The scenario for Bold Alligator had us land on the beach with our AAVs and secure the beach,” said Capt. Michael J. Mulvaney, the operations officer for 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. “We secured it with our initial waves of AAVs to make sure enemies couldn’t attack the beach, which would facilitate the rest of our combat power flowing ashore via LCACs and LCU. We massed all of our combat power at LZ Falcon in the tactical assembly area. Then, according to scenario, we executed actions from there.”
At the same time as the landings, sea-based helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft took coalition forces from ship and flew them to key positions ashore that needed to be secured.
Also involved in the landing were landing craft, utilities and landing craft, air cushions that moved troops, vehicles and supplies ashore to include M1A1 Abrams tanks. After the main body landed, these amphibious vessels switched to a logistical role to keep the troops ashore well supplied and transfer support elements from ship to shore as needed.
By practicing amphibious operations, Bold Alligator showcased the advantages of a sea-based command’s ability to quickly and efficiently execute humanitarian and combat operations at a moment’s notice.
“Amphibious forces are critical to maintaining the maritime flexibility required to preserve America’s vital interests,” said Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command.
“This is something [Bold Alligator 2012] is perfectly suited to demonstrate, because it’s focused on today’s fight with today’s forces.”
Mulvaney said his unit learned a variety of lessons from the exercise that will ensure smoother operations in the future. That future may not be too far off as the Marines of 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines, are scheduled to become the ground combat element of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“I’ve done two deployments to Iraq as well as one to Afghanistan, but this is my first time operating from a ship and working with the ‘Green Team’ as they say who conducts these operations,” Mulvaney added.
Archie explained that by holding an exercise on the Marine Expeditionary Brigade level, which can be nearly three times the size of the traditional Marine Expeditionary Unit, many more Marines became reacquainted with amphibious operations. The Marines refined the skills they needed to use aboard ships and are able to bring this experience back to their parent commands and out on future deployments.
“I think the Marines have learned a lot,” Archie said. “They’ve learned how to work with coalition [forces], they’ve learned how to successfully on-load equipment and personnel. I think they refined their [job specialties] working on ships, which is much different from being in an office building back on Camp Lejeune. They’ve definitely grown a lot over the past couple weeks.”