NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, VA. --
Hats, eye patches and talking parrots, these are things most people think of when you talk about pirates. To most, pirates are just legend, an item of history and storybooks.
To the Marines and sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit however, pirates were a very real threat as they retook a boat off the coast of Somalia last year. These are threats the Marines and sailors of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are training to handle.
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (reinforced), 22nd MEU, conducted vessel boarding search and seizure training aboard Naval Station Norfolk, Va., Jan. 19-20, 2011.
This training prepared the Marines and sailors to react to any of the many possible missions of a MEU.
“This is really important, it’s something we don’t do a lot,” said Staff Sgt. Chris S. Garrison, a CH-53E Super Stallion crew chief and Jupiter, Fla., native, with VMM-263 (rein). “The more proficient we are through training like this, the more proficient we’ll be in the real world.”
Floating in the dead fleet in the James River, helicopters approached the SS Cape Ann. H-60S's from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28, stationed out of Naval Station Norfolk, Va., deposited Marines from Force Reconnaissance Platoon, 22nd MEU, onto the ship first.
Then, packed with Marines from Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU, the CH-53E moved in and hovered steadily over the ship.
A thick green rope dropped from the center of the helicopter and Marines began to fast rope to the deck below.
The CH-53E’s crew chief and pilots work together to keep the helicopter a safe distance from the ship while also keeping it in a place from where the Marines can safely descend.
“The crew chiefs are absolutely essential,” said Capt. Matthew G. Roberts, the CH-53E pilot training officer and Sarasota, Fla., native, with VMM-263(rein). “The communication between them is absolutely essential. We couldn’t do the mission without the crew chief in the back.”
The act is a proverbial dance as the pilot must be cognizant of not only the ship below, but also the other aircraft circling nearby.
Once they deposited their load, the helicopter pulled away to allow the Marines aboard the ship to do their job. They moved quickly across the deck and cleared the bridge and the compartments below.
Though this is the first time the 22nd MEU practiced VBSS with all the appropriate assets, the Marines were very efficient. Within minutes, all the Marines were aboard and they retook the ship.
“It went great,” said Garrison. “Everything ran very smooth. It was good training.”
Historically, one of the missions of the Marine Corps was to protect and defend ships from pirates and though technology and tactics have changed, the basic mission has not. This training has become an important part of the Marine Corps' move back to its amphibious roots.
“As we move back to a traditional MEU, this becomes a skill set that we need to know,” said Roberts. “This is a mission we could be called to do with all the piracy going on in the world.”
As the Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU prepare to deploy this summer, they will train hard for a mission like the 15th MEU conducted last year and for all other possible missions.
The Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU are in the early stages of their pre-deployment training program, which is a series of progressively complex exercises designed to train and test the MEU's ability to operate as a cohesive and effective fighting force.
The 22nd MEU is a multi-mission capable force comprised of Aviation Combat Element, Marine Tilt Rotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; and its command element.
Marine Expeditionary Units are the Marine Corps' smallest permanent Marine Air-Ground Task Force, commanded by a colonel and comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors ready to provide immediate response in a hostile or crisis environment. While deployed, each MEU also incorporates two KC-130 aircraft available to support the unit's operations abroad.