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Crisis-response force coming to MARFORSOUTH

Aug. 29, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Marine Corps will soon stand up a crisis-response force, based in the United States, to respond to security challenges or humanitarian emergencies in the Caribbean and Central and South Americas.

Brig. Gen. David Coffman, commander of Marine Corps Forces South, said the U.S. could be just one earthquake or a few missteps away from a bad situation occurring in its own backyard.

“Although we’re not on edge for crisis response or embassy support ... like we’ve seen in west North Africa or the Middle East — it could happen here, too,” Coffman said.

For that reason, MARFORSOUTH will stand up a crisis response force — modeled after the one now forward deployed in Spain to deal with crises in Africa — to respond to embassy threats, evacuation needs, natural disasters and other contingencies in the Western Hemisphere, he said.

Maj. Dan Huvane, director of public affairs for MARFORSOUTH, said the number of Marines and sailors who will comprise the force in the Americas, and the date it will be stood up, are still being worked out. But the crisis response force for U.S. Southern Command will be based in the U.S., at least for now, he added.

It’s not immediately clear where that might be, but MARFORSOUTH is headquartered in Miami.

As combat winds down in Afghanistan, Marine Corps leadership is touting crisis response as a core competency of the service. Shortly after SPMAGTF-Crisis Response left Camp Lejeune, N.C., for Morón, Spain, in April, Commandant Gen. James Amos said he hoped to stand up a similar, but smaller, unit for SOUTHCOM by the end of the year. In May, Marine Corps officials said a crisis-response force also is being considered for the Middle East and U.S. Central Command.

Traditionally, the larger Marine expeditionary units, typically comprising 2,200 to 2,400 personnel embarked with Navy amphibious ready groups, have provided sea-based crisis-response capabilities. In fact, there are three MEUs at sea now, one in Hawaii, one now in Australia and the western Pacific, and one in the Middle East. But budget cuts could lead to fewer sea-based options. These new, nimbler crisis-response units are land-based and operate largely independent of the Navy.

SPMAGTF-Crisis Response, which includes a small group at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy, comprises 550 Marines, currently built around a reinforced rifle company. The task force deployed with six MV-22B Osprey helicopters and two KC-130J aerial refuelers.

Coffman said the Marine Corps recognizes that there are resource challenges in dollars and people, and it must continue to find other ways to provide crisis response.

“I was a MEU commander for almost four years,” he said. “It is highly unlikely that a trained and certified ARG-MEU team is going to come park off South America and be prepared to respond across the continuum of conflict. ... We are finding other ways — in a fiscally austere environment when the big Navy is going to be unable to sail ships to all the corners of the Earth — to get at that work.”

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