ABOARD USS ESSEX --
Whether it’s landing a helicopter during flight operations or dealing with high seas during small boat launch and recovery training, Marines and sailors work together through the elements to forge a relationship capable of completing any maritime contingency mission.
Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Essex Expeditionary Strike Group kicked off their fall patrol Sept. 23, and rolled straight into Navy and Marine Corps integration training, commonly referred to as “Blue/Green” training. The evolution calls servicemembers to combine their expertise in completing various missions intrinsic to a forward-deployed expeditionary unit. Those missions range from humanitarian aid and disaster relief to full scale combat operations.
The integration training, which lasted several days, included operational planning, rotary-wing and fixed-wing operations, amphibious docking operations via Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) vehicles and the tactical launch and recovery of Combat Rubber Raider Craft (CRRC).
According to Col. Paul L. Damren, commanding officer of the 31st MEU, the Navy Marine Corps team is cooperating beyond anticipation in the early goings of the deployment.
“This is my fourth deployment with the 31st MEU and I can honestly say that this is the highest level of “Blue/Green” cooperation and integration I have ever seen at this stage in a deployment,” said Damren, a North Belgrade, Maine, native.
For a Marine fresh to the Fleet Marine Force and no prior experience at sea, a maritime deployment may seem like a huge step into unfamiliar waters. In order to accomplish the missions at hand, the MEU relies on support and assets provided by the Essex ESG, which is comprised of Marines and sailors with the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), amphibious transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9) and amphibious dock landing ship Harpers Ferry (LSD 49).
Whether air, land or sea, team work is absolutely paramount. For example, along the deck plates of an amphibious assault ship flight line, sailors and Marines guide and direct pilots of the MEU’s Aviation Combat Element to ensure safe and successful landings and take-offs of fixed and rotary winged aircraft. In passing, some would say the flight deck is one of the most dangerous areas of the ship because the slightest miscalculation or miscommunication can result in a disaster.
“The flight deck crewmembers helped make this a very smooth fly on,” said Capt. Andrew Graham, a UH-IN Huey helicopter pilot with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced). “The sailors of the flight crew were very flexible and accommodating.”
For the sea portion of the “Blue/Green” training, sailors in the well deck of the Essex and Marines with the MEU’s reconnaissance platoons conducted launch and recovery drills with CRRCs to smooth out any flaws they may encounter during future operations.
“At first there were some discrepancies with communication, but that was fixed quickly and the end result was a great training evolution that ran very smoothly,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Cullen, platoon sergeant, Amphibious Reconnaissance Platoon, 31st MEU.
The Marines and sailors conducting the small boat training encountered some complications due to rough seas and the fact that it was a new experience for some. The portion of the training that required the most teamwork was the recovery stage. As the Marines approached the well deck of the ship, communication was imperative. One of the sailors waiting in the well deck signaled to the Marine in the front of the CRRC, also referred to as a Zodiak, that he would be the one catch the “Monkey Fist.” This peculiar reference to a primates’ body part is actually a specially twisted knot on the end of a rope used to secure the boat once recovered.
According to Cullen, a native of Richmond, Va., the beneficial part of the training was simply getting face-to-face introductions and essentially working with the sailors who the Marines will be working with during future missions.
According to Seaman James Moore, a sailor working with boatswain’s mates, working with the Marines is a great opportunity to put skills to the test for a purpose.
“I enjoy the teamwork and close-nit joint effort we share together when it comes to operations, I’m just really happy that I can help,” said Moore, a Portland, Tenn., native.
From operational planning on ship and shore, to the performance of strategic missions in air, land and sea, the Marines and sailors with both the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Essex Expeditionary Strike Group combine their expertise in order to successfully complete “Blue/Green” integration training and prepare themselves for future operations in the Asia-Pacific region.