Two European-based units that operate in Africa have merged in an effort to streamline Marine Corps missions on the vast continent.
The Corps has combined SPMAGTF-Africa, a unit based in Italy that conducts training with military partners in African countries like Uganda and Senegal, with its Spain-based unit that responds to crises across Africa. The two units now fall under SPMAGTF-Crisis Response-Africa.
Marine officials termed the merger a name change with little structural effect. It was designed to avoid confusion as more crisis response units were created like the new crisis response unit for the Middle East, which is called SPMAGTF-Crisis Response-Central Command.
The name changed in September, but Marines with the Camp Lejeune, North Carolina-based 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, are the first battalion to deploy to fill the two missions that now fall under one unit.
"There is no loss or relocation of resources, personnel, or capabilities in connection to this name change in September," said Lt. Col. Sean Roche, the operations officer with SPMAGTF-Crisis Response-Africa. "The redesignation, or name change, only clarified the already existing command structure under the [colonel] level commander."
The Marines will still be split between Italy and Spain, as they were when the units were separate.
About 265 Marines and sailors will be based at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, where SPMAGTF-Africa was previously based. About 850 Marines and sailors will be based in Morón, Spain, where the crisis response force for Africa has been based since it was created in 2013. That unit has responded to a number of calls for boosted security at embassies and to assist with the evacuation of diplomatic personnel in places like Libya and South Sudan. An unspecified number also provided security reinforcement at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya, until it was evacuated last summer.
Detachment B, which will be based in Romania but support SPMAGTF-Crisis Response-Africa will serve as a force protection company that is prepared to reinforce embassies or recover downed pilots and personnel, Roche said. While there they will also train along side multinational forces to keep their skills sharp.
The unit's detachment A will fill the mission previously held by SPMAGTF-Africa. Those troops, which include infantry, aviation and support Marines, will regularly deploy to Africa for theater security cooperation operations. That can include missions ranging from teaching small unit tactics to wildlife rangers combating poachers in Chad to small boat maintenance for Nigerian forces combating insurgents or Islamists like Boko Haram.
Also in the region — and falling under the same headquarters element — is the Romania-based Black Sea Rotational Force. About 600 Marines with 2/8 will be based in Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base and will conduct training with Eastern European partners.
Since they fall under the same headquarters element, they could be called on to join with the rest of 2/8 in Italy and Spain — along with the aviation and support Marines — in the event of a large contingency.
"A crucial capability we maintain as a SPMAGTF is our ability to share our resources and forces across our locations in Spain, Italy and Romania," Roche said. "If we needed to source personnel or equipment from one location or the other, we have that ability with our aviation assets, sister services, and host nation coordination."
Merging the two SPMAGTFs operating in Africa puts the two missions under more direction of one colonel.
Previously the theater security cooperation forces were led by a lieutenant colonel. That lieutenant colonel now heads the organization's logistics combat element with the ground and aviation combat elements also led by lieutenant colonels.
They all report directly to Col. Thomas Savage, the commanding officer of 2nd Marine Regiment, which is the SPMAGTF's headquarters element during the current six-month rotation which officially begins with a turnover ceremony during the first week of February.