USS BATAAN --
In an advanced training exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, May 10, 2011, Marines and sailors with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit simulated pursuing and raiding a suspected vessel attempting to illegally smuggle weapons and illicit material to pro-regime forces in Libya.
The mission conducted was a vessel board, search and seizure mission on the suspected ship in order to protect the people of Libya and eliminate any threat to U.S. interests, assets and personnel.
“VBSS is a critical mission set for the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group because, if tasked, we must counter piracy and, or, the smuggling of weapons, explosives or any other illegal items at sea,” said Capt. Scott A. Cuomo, the operations officer for Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU.
During the late-training scenario, USNS Robert E. Peary, a Navy logistics ship, simulated the hostile vessel attempting to supply pro-regime Libyan forces with arms. Marines and sailors with Weapons Company, BLT 2nd Bn. 2nd Marines, served as the raid force and security element tasked with overpowering the suspected ship and crew.
“The May 10 VBSS mission provided the opportunity for our VBSS force to demonstrate its capabilities to seize a vessel that attempts to oppose the (Navy and Marine Corps) team from boarding,” Cuomo explained. “The training scenario was built around a vessel that was attempting to smuggle illegal weapons and ammunition to pro-regime elements in Libya.”
Before the mission began, the Marines analyzed intelligence, conducted detailed briefs and coordinated all assets involved in the operation.
“When the ship was asked to comply with a request to board, the ship refused,” Cuomo said.
Following the final planning and preparation phases, Marines with BLT 2/2 flew to the ship, quickly descended ropes from two Navy MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters, and promptly began the initial raid and assault on USNS Robert E. Peary.
In the early stages of the mission Marines searched and seized the ship’s bridge, engine room and aft steering compartment to totally gain control of the vessel.
Following the assault-force raid, a Marine Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced) CH-53E Super Stallion inserted Marines and sailors with Weapons Company, BLT 2/2, via fast rope to supplement the recon team’s search and seizure efforts. The security element’s presence allowed the Marines to push ahead and search additional key areas aboard the ship.
While the Marines and sailors searched, seized and secured USNS Robert E. Peary, aircraft with VMM-263 (Rein) flew overhead to provide close-air-support and an aerial sniper. USS Mesa Verde sailed near the hostile ship, and also provided sniper support to cover the VBSS teams operating aboard.
As soon as the 22nd MEU VBSS team concluded the search and seizure, a specialized Navy team trained to perform additional investigative and operational procedures boarded the ship and relieved the Marines. Helicopters landed aboard the ship to extract the Marines, and returned BLT 2/2 forces to USS Mesa Verde, sailing nearby.
“Specific to maritime and amphibious operations, the U.S. military, and the (Navy and Marine Corps) team deployed with the USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, ensure the stability and continued growth of our economy by guaranteeing freedom of the seas,” Cuomo added. “This means for us today just as it did for our forefathers who were sent off the coast of Northern Libya back in 1805 – if a nation, or terrorist group of any kind attempts to interfere with the free flow of commerce they should fully expect U.S. Marines and Navy VBSS forces to hunt them down soon after.”
The Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU are currently deployed with Amphibious Squadron 6 aboard USS Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and will continue to train and improve the MEU’s ability to operate as a cohesive and effective Marine Air Ground Task Force.
The 22nd MEU is a multi-mission, capable force, commanded by Col. Eric J. Steidl and comprised of an Aviation Combat Element, Marine Tilt Rotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); a Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; a 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, and comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors ready to provide immediate response to a hostile environment or crisis.