HWANJINRI BEACH, POHANG, South Korea --
A roar of explosions cut through the morning coastal haze of South Korea’s eastern shoreline. What started as a quiet day in a far-off land had been interrupted by a military amphibious landing.
U.S. and Republic of Korea (R.O.K.) Marines and sailors trained side-by-side Nov. 6, while conducting an amphibious beach landing as part of the annual bilateral exercise, Korean Incremental Training Program ‘09.
The exercise was conducted to improve interoperability and combat readiness among the two militaries while building on the long-standing alliance between the two nations.
As a combined force, U.S. Marine and Navy commanders from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) and Essex Expeditionary Strike Group (Essex ESG) along with R.O.K commanders from 1st R.O.K Marine Division and Navy Amphibious Squadron 53 worked together to plan and execute the landing.
“The focus of the Essex ESG is on improving the capability of a combined R.O.K.-U.S. force,” said Capt. Donald A. Schmieley, commander of Amphibious Squadron 11. “This exercise provides us with the perfect environment to expand both R.O.K. and U.S. proficiency in a variety of areas.”
Around 10 a.m., simulated air strikes causing explosions along the shoreline and in the surf signaled the beginning of the evolution. Over a chain of coastal mountains, paratroopers could be seen making their descent to join the fight.
Soon afterward, a swarm of R.O.K. and U.S. military aircraft approached the beach through the coastal mist. The multiple aircraft simulated providing fire support as they flew together in formation popping off flares along the way.
Meanwhile, the naval element of the amphibious assault made their approach toward the beach in similar fashion. AAVs from both forces pushed forward through a thick smokescreen designed to mask their approach.
Once the AAVs reached the shore, Marines poured out and immediately began to storm the beach. Some Marines began setting up communications and mortars while others rushed to find a position in which they could provide security and fire support.
Assets for the mission from R.O.K. and U.S. forces combined equated to more than 25 ships, 60 Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs), four Landing Craft Air Cushioned (LCAC) vehicles, and more than 30 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft as well as AV-8B Harrier jets operated in concert to assault enemy forces ashore.
“It was very impressive and reassuring seeing the technology and its capabilities showcased during the training,” said 1st Lt. Junsik Sim, a comptroller with the R.O.K. Marine Corps’ 1st Marine Division.
The bi-lateral integration proved to be successful for U.S. and R.O.K. Marines and sailors in addition to the joint amphibious assault exercise.
“Although the bi-lateral training is an extremely important part of the exercise, one of our primary goals is to build cohesion, camaraderie and esprit de corps amongst our forces,” said Col. Paul Damren, commanding officer, 31st MEU. “These are the capabilities that will carry the day when times are toughest.”
The day’s events held two main tactical missions, according to Maj. Scott Packard, the executive officer, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, 31st MEU.
“Two of our goals were to conduct a successful amphibious assault moving further inland to a predetermined objective point to set up defensive positions against additional attacks,” Packard said. “A byproduct of successful exercises like this one is that we are all more confident in each other’s capabilities, standard operating procedures, and command and control.”
Soon after the U.S. Marines hit the shore, another platoon of R.O.K. Marines joined the fight via LCAC. As soon as their boots hit the sand, they rushed and assaulted through the beach en route to their objective deeper inland.
“It’s important to have our forces working together because it prepares us for real world situations in which we could be fighting alongside one another,” Sim said. “It’s important to have strong allies because even though we are different geographically, we still have the same goals.”
Due to proper planning and solid execution the entire evolution was a huge success, according to Sim.
“This builds the bond between us and reaffirms our commitment to the Korean people,” Packard said.
For the Marines and sailors of the 31st MEU and 1st R.O.K Marine Division and the sailors from the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group (Essex ESG), Amphibious Squadron 11, KITP ‘09 was an opportunity to learn from one another’s strengths and become an interoperable team. KITP ‘09 provided an opportunity to enhance and strengthen an already strong relationship between the Republic of Korea and U.S. Armed forces.