Marines with Easy Company, Black Sea Rotational Force 13, hold back Marine role players during an embassy reinforcement exercise in January. The unit will interact with militaries from 20 countries during its six-month deployment later this year. (Cpl. Phillip Clark / Marine Corps)
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6 months, 20 countries
The bulk of training experienced by this Black Sea Rotational Force will be focused in Romania, Latvia and Bulgaria, with participating militaries from these NATO nations:
Non-NATO countries include:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Marine Corps will deploy about 300 infantry Marines to Eastern Europe this spring as part of an annual rotational force slated to train with foreign militaries from 20 countries.
They'll be the first active-duty grunts to lead the Black Sea Rotational Force, a special purpose Marine air-ground task force that operates out of Mihail Kogalniceanu, Romania. The unit, mostly members of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., recently completed a weeklong exercise preparing them for possible crisis-contingency situations they might encounter while overseas, including embassy reinforcement, non-combatant evacuations and humanitarian assistance missions, said 1st Lt. Hector Alejandro, a spokesman for the unit.
The six-month deployment is scheduled for March through August.
One of those pre-deployment drills included a mock embassy-security breach, during which 40 screaming role-players stood in a crowd while six Marines simulated an attack on the embassy. The Marines practiced using shields as part of riot control and worked to calm the protesters. Such scenarios have renewed relevance in light of the violent incidents that erupted outside several U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad last September, including the deadly attack on a consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The Marines also worked to evacuate role-players during a simulated crisis that led to a mock refugee situation. They worked on the administrative side to handle checking them in and directed them to new living quarters.
And since they'll also be called to work with local militaries from partnering countries, the Marines and sailors practiced working through interpreters to determine how to best convey information when their partners don't speak the same language.
Now, Alejandro said, the unit is conducting a battalion-level exercise validating the core mission-essential tasks for the ground combat element.
Experienced small-unit leaders
Since 2010, BSRF Marines have deployed to Eastern European countries such as Georgia, Bulgaria and Romania to build partnerships and military capabilities throughout the region. But no active-duty troops were involved in the past. This time, there will be no Reserve units attached to BSRF-13, Alejandro said.
The Marines and sailors participating were members of last year's 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit deployment, which prepared them well for the upcoming mission, Alejandro said. The experience those small-unit leaders bring from the MEU, coupled with multiple combat deployments, "make us ideally suited to carry out security cooperation efforts and a wide range of other missions," he said.
Members of the participating European partner nations recently met with Marine Corps leaders in Stuttgart, Germany, to finalize the planning and training schedule for this year's rotational force, according to a Marine Corps news release. Marines will interact with troops from countries that are part of NATO and some that aren't. The bulk of their training will be focused in Romania, Latvia and Bulgaria.
Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, commander of Marine Forces Reserve, told Marine Corps Times in September that the BSRF program offers great relationship-building with the countries involved. And the operations officer and chief plans officer for Marine Forces Europe, Col. Jon Lowrey, says he hopes to expand the program beyond those countries participating now. He described it as the "primary engagement tool that the Marine Corps has for countries in Europe."
The program has funding through 2017, and like the rest of the Marine Corps, could face cuts as budgetary constraints get tighter.
"Depending on what happens, it all could be in jeopardy," Hummer said in September. "My experience [has been that] we see those horizontal and vertical cuts. So you may have entire exercises that might not occur, and then you may have entire exercises overall that may be reduced in size or scope."
That might mean continuing the mission, on a smaller scale if necessary, he said.