As the Marine Corps rebalances its East Coast units to support and focus on operations in Europe, a task force that recently returned from its second deployment shows how the service is finding its niche on the continent.

While the Task Force 61/2 connects and coordinates with all Marines in the theater, the key mission is to develop Marine multidomain sensing formations, sharing data across U.S., allies and partners to help fill intelligence gaps in the region.

Under the 2022 Force Design 2030 update, one of the biggest changes made by then Commandant Gen. David Berger was an increased focus on the role of Marines in the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance contributions to the Navy and joint force.

Command staff of the task force, part of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, spoke with Marine Corps Times Wednesday following the unit’s nine-month deployment that concluded in January as it resets for its next rotation in May.

But rotation could be somewhat of a misnomer.

That’s because while the full 65-Marine task force isn’t currently in Naples, Italy ― the unit’s overseas base. A smaller crew from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit continues to oversee Marine and Navy amphibious needs for the Navy’s 6th Fleet between the longer rotations, said Brig. Gen. Andrew Priddy, II MEF deputy commanding general and task force commander.

“We have a permanent, albeit rotational, presence,” Priddy said.

The task force runs command and control of those Marine and naval amphib operations across U.S European Command and U.S. Africa Command for 6th Fleet. It’s a construct that exists in other theaters but has been absent from the Europe and Africa areas of responsibility in recent years.

During the recent deployment, the task force managed between 400–5,000 Marines and sailors in theater, depending on the level of personnel deployed, said Col. Kevin Shea, task force chief of staff. On average an estimated 1,500 Marines and sailors were operating under the task force across Europe and Africa.

The task force arrived in Europe in May 2023 for its second rotation since forming. By June, the staff was running command and control for Marine units during the NATO Baltic Operations a 20-nation military exercise focused on defending the Baltic Sea region.

From July to August, some units remained in the region for Exercise Agile Spirit, another joint, multinational European exercise primarily focused on the Republic of Georgia, said Col. Andrew Martinez, task force operations officer.

At the same time, the task force ran Marine unit portions of the Large Scale Exercise, which included more than 25,000 participants conducting distributed maritime operations, littoral exercises and expeditionary advanced base operations in a large-scale combat scenario.

In September 2023, Marines continued the coordination through Archipelago Endeavor, a maritime exercise also focused on the Baltic Sea led by Swedish Armed Forces.

The Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, pulled the 26th MEU to support U.S. Central Command, and extended the scheduled deployment by more than two months to mid-January.

It all started as part of experimentation coming out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, II MEB’s stateside home.

In March 2022, 2nd Marine Division was tasked to begin experimentation with reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance in Europe, all integrated with the fleet’s needs. So Lt. Gen. Francise Donovan and Vice Adm. Eugene Black, who each at the time commanded 2nd Marine Division and 6th Fleet, respectively, stood up the task force.

Martinez didn’t divulge exactly what changed but said between the task force’s 2022 and 2023 rotations, the unit has added new sensing equipment to its deployment packages to better monitor the area.

While conducting the recon/counter-recon experimentation, the task force was also put in charge of command and control for forces involved in amphibious operations. That’s expanded to cover all Marine forces in theater, Priddy said.

What that means for Marine expeditionary units and rotational Marine forces in the region is a direct line to other Marines for sharing data, information and getting help with everything from moving forces across the region to resupplying critical logistics, said Col. Patrick Manson, task force operations officer.

“Marines figure out Marine problems much easier than anyone else,” said Sgt. Maj. Joseph Mendez, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade sergeant major. For subordinate Marine units it provides an assurance that the task force understands and can quickly react to a Marine unit’s needs.

Previously, a Marine expeditionary unit rotating in theater would report direction to 6th Fleet, adding a load of planning tasks to the smaller organization staff that’s often working various tactical scenarios for exercises and operations.

“It allows them to focus on the tactical mission,” Shea said.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

In Other News
Load More