Marines and sailors hike to Mount Suribachi on Iwo To during a professional military education tour in December 2012. (Pfc. Kasey Peacock / Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps' shift to the Pacific will ramp up considerably this year, with more personnel and aircraft rotating to Japan and other destinations throughout the region.
As of late January, there are two infantry battalions rotating through Okinawa for six months at a time, with a third scheduled to start this summer. The Corps also intends to send a contingent of electronic warfare aircraft to its air station in mainland Japan, and a group of explosives experts will undertake a humanitarian mission in Vietnam. Future engagement with Cambodia is on the horizon, too.
The Marine Corps' commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, told reporters at a conference in San Diego last week that the infantry units cycling through Okinawa this year will conduct training in Guam, Australia and, he hopes, the Philippines. The two battalions currently deployed are permanently based in Hawaii and North Carolina. Plans call for another infantry unit, likely from California, to deploy in August or September, Amos said.
"So we'll actually have three rotating," he said. "… That is part of the [Pacific] reorientation … to get these units into the theater."
Additionally, the service will send an unspecified number of EA-6B Prowlers to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, which already hosts rotations of F/A-18 Hornet fighter squadrons. The Prowlers are long-range aircraft equipped with advanced electronic countermeasures capable of disabling enemy air defenses and gathering intelligence.
"We haven't had them there, flying out of Iwakuni, in a long time," Amos said. "They are going to come back. So I'm pretty excited about it."
In July, Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., many expert in handling explosives and mines, will head to Vietnam, where thousands of unexploded munitions remain from the Vietnam War. They'll teach locals how to handle and dispose of unexploded munitions, according to a Marine Corps news release.
"We are not training in Vietnam," Amos said, "but I would hope that someday down the road, with relationships we build over the next year or two, that we'll be able to train in Vietnam, perhaps with air forces, and operate along with them and build those relationships."
The Navy's top officer, Adm. Jon Greenert, said during the same conference that the U.S. is seeking new opportunities in Cambodia as well. The commanding general of Marine Forces Pacific, Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, told Marine Corps Times last fall that Vietnam and Cambodia have a strong interest in exchanges or training centered on medical and humanitarian-response missions.
Missions in Malaysia, Indonesia and India also are on the horizon, Robling said at the time.