31st MEU, Filipino Marines exchange tactics

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 10/8/2003

Story by Sgt. S. K. D'Alessio

PHILIPPINE MARINE CORPS BASE, TERNATE, Philippines(Sept. 28, 2003) -- Three task-organized infantry companies from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment landed ashore here for the first time, Sept. 15, to conduct Amphibious Ready Group Exercise- Republic of the Philippines 03-1.

The three ships that make up the ARG, the flagship USS Essex, USS Fort McHenry and USS Harper's Ferry, arrived Sept. 14 in Subic Bay for the exercise. ARGEX RP 03-1 intended to strengthen the bond and increase interoperability between the Navy, MEU and the approximately 700 Filipino Marines and soldiers.

The exercise began as the U.S. Navy delivered the Marines on the beaches via Landing Craft Utility boats and helicopter airlift, reinforcing their role as the "lethal express-delivery crew" for the MEU-ARG team. In order to sustain a rapidly deploying force that strikes from the sea, it is essential for the U.S. and Philippine Sailors and Marines to train together on a bilateral platform, according to Col. Roy A. Arnold, 31st MEU commanding officer.

One of the main purposes of ARGEX RP 03-1 is to "increase our interoperability (with Philippine forces) and demonstrate solidarity between our two governments," Arnold said.

This training allows the MEU to maintain a higher standard as a peacekeeping and reactive force-in-readiness in the Asia/Pacific region. All of the MEU's elements, the ground combat, combat service support, aviation combat and command elements participated, working hand-in-hand with the Philippine forces.

"An exercise like this greatly improves our ability to stand next to the Philippine Marine Corps and feel confident in each other's capabilities," said Capt. Jackie Schiller, assistant operations officer for the MEU's ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. "We work so well together, because we share the same ethos and set of standards. You can even see it in the crimson and gold colors we wear."

Marked as the 21st cycle for the MEU's history, ARGEX-RP 03-1 offered the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy an opportunity to cross train with their Philippine Marine Corps counterparts as well as the AFP army and navy. The combined planning and field training experienced on both sides greatly contributed to the combat readiness of all forces involved, according to Schiller.

"Our ability to project forces rapidly, in particular the quick reaction force, is something the AFP was interested in and this training helped establish a foundation to continue small unit operations," said Lt.Col. Ronald A. Gridley, 31st MEU operations officer.

"Most of all, the opportunity for us to have an equal exchange of information helps us meet in the middle and respect each other. Because they have more real world experience than we can even imagine, we learned a lot from them."

At two separate locations in the Luzon region, here and at Philippine Army Base Magsaysay, the combined forces combined to conduct a wide range of exercises from live fire and maneuver exercises, demolition training, close quarters combat, martial arts and mechanized training with their Amphibious Assault Vehicles.

The Forward Ammunition and Refueling Point or FARP was one of the more important capabilities there. This aviation ability involves refueling and supplying forward deployed ground and aviation forces--an essential practice for the MEU, which strikes from the sea and potentially conducts long-range missions.

"The whole point is to make sure troops and aircrew make it all the way to the battlefield," said SSgt. Patrick J. Najmulski, a 29-year-old Anaheim, Calif. native and aviation ordnance chief with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265, "The Dragons." "When I was in Iraq for my last assignment, like a lot of others here, we had to conduct FARPs all the way to Baghdad, sometimes four hundred miles out. I think during this last exercise, we proved that we can do it without a hitch."

In addition to the mutual benefit of combat readiness and interoperability, the exercise also improved security relations with the Philippines and demonstrated U.S. resolve to support the country in future contingencies.

"This exercise far exceeded what we expected to be able to accomplish; everyone benefited greatly," Gridley said. "The kind of fire and maneuver training we had out there, we just can't get in Okinawa or Hawaii because it's so limited. So this was a unique opportunity for us to learn from them and exchange our own info -- that's what a bilateral exercise is all about."

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