More than 1,000 Marines from eight countries took partnership to new levels as "UNITAS Amphibious 2015" deployed combined platoons, companies — even a combined Marine Air-Ground Task Force, a first for the South American area of operations.
"The fact that we are operating off of different countries' ships and using helicopters from different countries is complex and hard to manage, but amphibious operations are always complex," said Col. Michael Cuccio, chief of staff of United States Marine Corps Forces South. "At the same time, if you do it right, it is a unique skill set ideally suited toward rapid response."
The goals of this annual exercise, which wrapped up in late November, were to develop joint and combined interoperability, improve amphibious planning and operations, and strengthen national partnerships, he said. It included marines from eight countries, including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru. The language barrier was especially challenging as Portuguese, Spanish, English and French were spoken could be heard in each unit. This only added to the pucker factor as Brazilian amphibious assault vehicles embarked Mexican ships.
"But that's all part of how we do business and how we do partnerships. You have to figure out how to work together," said Cuccio, who especially credited the contribution of military translators. "Partnership underscores everything we do."
The event kicked off with a four-day academic and training phase, in which participants honed skills such as military operations in urban terrain, helicopter embark and debark, and live-fire operations. The Brazilian-led MAGTF, which included roughly 300 U.S. Marines, then embarked Mexican and Brazilian ships for the amphibious phase. A team led by Mexican marines used zodiac rubber boats for a quick hit, while Brazilian Marines stormed ashore aboard their organic AAVs and landing craft, utility. Leathernecks added an MV-22 Osprey air assault to seize the final objectives at Ihla de Marambaia, an island just west of Rio de Janeiro.
Having seized the beachhead and landing zones, the mission next centered on stability ops in a humanitarian assistance/disaster response environment. The combined forces faced 100 role players when they arrived at the Brazilian village, where hungry people were growing restless, and a guerilla force was stirring up trouble. The force had to quickly identify the good guys, and the bad, to assist the police force in protecting the people.
Such exercises are vital for that area of operations as it is home to some of the world's largest marine corps and naval infantries, Cuccio said. Like their U.S. counterparts, those marine forces are increasingly seen as the rapid response force of choice, and must be ready when their nation is least ready.
An MV-22B Osprey from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 764 conducts embarking and disembarking drills during UNITAS Amphibious 2015 at Ilha do Governador, Brazil. This exercise aimed to ensure partner nation marine/naval infantries were ready to provide relevant forces to respond to crises in the Western Hemisphere.
Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Ricardo Davila/Marine Corps
Various reserve component units led by 23rd Marines were the major player for the U.S. Marine Corps contingent. A key accomplishment took place Nov. 14 when flight crews from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 764, 4th Marine Air Wing, set a new distance record for Osprey flights in the Western Hemisphere. Three MV-22Bs traveled 6,165 miles from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The five-leg flight included stops in Trinidad, Tobago and Brazil, according to 1st Lt. Tyler Hopkins, a spokesman for Marine Corps Forces South. The Ospreys were supported by three KC-130J Hercules tankers from Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 234 and one KC-130 from Marine Aerial Refueler Squadron 452, 4th Marine Air Wing.
Lessons learned from the long flight lead to faster and more efficient responses and help to better prepare for crossing international boundaries and dealing with environmental concerns, Lt. Col. Greg Gehman, commander of the VMM-764 Moonlighters, told Marine Corps Times after the flight.
The aircraft carrier George Washington and its task group also participated in concurrent UNITAS naval exercises as the flat top transits from Yokosuka, Japan to Norfolk, Virginia, for a scheduled refueling and complex overhaul.
The next UNITAS Amphibious is in the works, and will likely take place in the summer of 2017 in Peru, Cuccio said.