Lance Cpl. Bryan Cook, assigned to Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team Pacific, advances with Philippine Coast Guard Special Forces to secure a perimeter during an amphibious beach assault exercise in 2012. Four FAST platoons, like the one that was sent to Benghazi after the U.S. consulate attack, operate worldwide. (Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Hickok / Navy)
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As the Marine Corps shifts its focus to the Pacific, two platoons of Marines continue to deploy on rotations to Japan, spending seven months operating with Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team Company Pacific around the vast Asia-Pacific region.
FASTPAC, as the company is known, keeps its anchor in Yokosuka, Japan, home to the U.S. 7th Fleet and the shore-based headquarters of the fleet commander. It is one of four FAST units with Marine Corps Security Force Regiment in Norfolk, Va., that operates overseas. The others are located in Bahrain; Rota, Spain; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
FAST platoons are specialized units that provide a quick-reaction force to protect U.S. assets ranging from embassies to nuclear weapons and submarines across the globe. When U.S. compounds in Libya came under attack in September, it was a FAST platoon of 50 Marines from Rota that was sent to Benghazi.
The platoons deployed to Japan come from FAST Company Bravo, based at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, Va. For much of their deployment, FASTPAC Marines and their platoon hospital corpsmen will train and operate in multiple countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region, but they remain prepared to grab their gear and board an aircraft or helicopter.
“We are on a short tether,” said Maj. Marc Foster, the FASTPAC company commander. “We are expeditionary, and we can get anywhere in a certain amount of time. It depends on the location of where we are and where we have to get to.”
“We would be first, before the [Marine expeditionary unit] gets there,” he said. “As long as there’s an airport, we can land there.”
The Pacific is a vast training ground for FASTPAC Marines, who get to visit and train in places like Guam, where Bravo 5 platoon recently conducted helicopter operations with UH-60 helicopters. The Marines also visit countries such as South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. Unlike most FAST units, they also spend stretches of time at sea aboard the 7th Fleet command ship Blue Ridge.
“We get to go all over the AOR, whether it’s aboard ship or we have to fly somewhere,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Quackenbush, Bravo 5 platoon sergeant. “It’s a little like a little MEU.”
Quackenbush spoke March 7 from the Blue Ridge as it anchored in Manila, Philippines, for several days of liberty and military exchanges. Earlier that week, Bravo 5 visited Hong Kong, where the platoon spent two days with the city police’s small boat division sharing shipboarding tactics and grabbing rides in the police department’s high-speed boats across the bay.
Aboard the Blue Ridge
Deployment aboard the Blue Ridge means Marines quickly learn about life at sea.
“It is an eye-opening experience for them,” said Quackenbush, a veteran of two Iraq deployments, one Afghanistan deployment and four MEU deployments. “They are just very surprised with how little space they are allotted.”
Still, he said, it is way better aboard Blue Ridge than what Marines endure on amphibious ships, where they often outnumber the sailors.
“Here, the chow is good, the lines aren’t long for anything,” he said, “and we’ve got some room to spread.”
FAST platoon Marines, who join with five-year contracts, are heavily trained, getting courses in close-quarters battle, non-lethal weapons, riot control, helicopter rope suspension training, visit-board-search-seize, driving and convoy operations, offensive and defensive operations, and schooling in other missions before they go overseas — and they have to be ready to respond anywhere at any time.
“They have a little bit more training, compared to regular infantry guys,” Foster said, and they have additional duties, such as driving trucks and forklifts. With a platoon operating as it does with the Navy, “we have to be self-sustaining,” he noted.
The Marines get hearty doses of live-fire training at Camp Fuji, near Yokosuka, and they often have to mobilize quickly, as they did when Bravo 5 left for Guam this winter for training and some military history lessons.
“A lot of times, we are actually disappointed that we didn’t have more time on the ship,” he said. “The guys are having a great time visiting all these countries.” In FASTPAC, he added, “you have the most opportunities to experience mainland Japan, get on ship and see all the different countries from a different perspective.”
Assignment to FASTPAC can be a bit confusing for Marines and their families. At times, Foster said, he often has to convince others that the Marines reporting to FASTPAC must go to Yokosuka, not Okinawa, the headquarters for Marine Corps Bases Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force.
FASTPAC Marines work for the 7th Fleet commander, currently Vice Adm. Scott Swift. One platoon deploys and travels aboard Blue Ridge when the ship leaves Yokosuka, while the other remains based out of Japan but travels and deploys throughout the region.
“That’s the beauty of the Pacific,” Foster said. “You have so many different countries surrounded by so much water speaking so many different languages.”