Cpl. Nicholas Zablonski, with Black Sea Rotational Force 14, participates in Exercise Peace Sentinel in Novo Selo, Bulgaria, on Nov. 7. The bilateral exercise included battalion-size defense and raid operations. (2nd Lt. Danielle Dixon/Marine Corps)
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North Carolina-based Marines are next in line to conduct rotational deployments in Europe and Africa as the service continues to push forward with expeditionary deployments geared toward crisis response and strengthening military partnerships.
Eighth Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., will lead the Corps’ Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, based at Morón Air Base in Spain, which stood up earlier this year. They’ll form the headquarters element and will be responsible for coordinating responses to crises in U.S. Africa Command, said Capt. Eric Flanagan, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon.
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will constitute the ground and logistics combat elements for the task force, while the air combat element will be Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 (Reinforced), out of Marine Corps Air Station New River. A detachment of KC-130s from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, out of MCAS Cherry Point, will be part of that element.
In coming months, members of 8th Marines will replace the task force that is in Spain now, which is built around Alpha Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, also out of Camp Lejeune.
Most, if not all, of the remaining Marines with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will comprise two rotational units that aim to enhance military partnerships across Europe and Africa, Flanagan said. The first group will deploy in January as SPMAGTF Africa, which is based at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy. The second group, deploying in March, will comprise the Black Sea Rotational Force, which is based at Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, Romania.
Each of the three deployments is expected to last six months.
Most of the 150 Marines and sailors now deployed as SPMAGTF Africa 13.3 are assigned to 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, a Reserve unit headquartered in Baltimore.
About 300 Marines typically deploy with BSRF. Currently, that mission is being handled by Marines with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Camp Lejeune.
Members of SPMAGTF Africa conduct training with local militaries that are dealing with terrorism or other threats to security. Marines have operated in countries like Senegal, Uganda, Burundi, Mauritania, the Seychelles and others. Marines with BSRF conduct security cooperation efforts with more than 20 countries throughout the Black Sea, Balkan and Caucasus regions.
Typically, Reserve units have deployed as SPMAGTF Africa and BSRF; 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, became the first active-duty unit to deploy to Romania when it left in March.
Each of the rotational deployments are relatively new. The Black Sea force stood up in 2010, while SPMAGTF Africa stood up a year later. SPMAGTF Crisis Response, the newest, was created to assist with growing unrest in such North African countries as Mali, Algeria and Libya.
With budget constraints limiting the deployment of Navy ships, the task force serves as a land-based crisis response option for regional combatant commanders. The first iteration of the self-sustainable unit deployed in April with six MV-22B Osprey helicopters assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365, and two KC-130J Hercules assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252. It was built around a reinforced reconnaissance company.
The task force can respond to humanitarian emergencies or security challenges — to include embassy reinforcement. Within weeks of the first crisis response force arriving in Spain, an unspecified number of personnel were moved to Italy. Growing unrest in Tripoli raised concerns for the safety of personnel at the U.S. embassy there, defense officials said.
More than 80 Marines with the unit soon began augmenting embassy security in Libya.
But each of the rotational forces can respond to crises in the region, including embassy reinforcement.
To ensure the Marines based in Europe and Africa keep their skills honed, the three rotational forces recently teamed with the regional Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, based at Naval Station Rota, Spain, for a three-day training event in Morón and Rota, according to a Marine Corps news release. The training aimed to unify the four units under a single command to plan, coordinate and execute a crisis response exercise, according to the release.■