By 1st Lt. Adam Miller, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit
TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka --
Marines and Sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, embarked aboard the USS Somerset (LPD 25), participated in a Theater Security Cooperation exchange, training side-by-side with the recently inaugurated Sri Lankan Marine Corps Nov. 22-25 at Sri Lanka Naval Base, Trincomalee.
The Sri Lanka Marine Corps, still in its infancy, capitalized on the time they had with their U.S. counterparts who can draw from 241 years of experience. The TSC consisted of sharing best-practices in all facets of bilateral training such as offensive and defensive tactics, officer and noncommissioned officer leadership development, explosive ordnance disposal, physical fitness and Marine Corps martial arts, developing and evaluating training programs, combat lifesaving skills, and maritime interception operations; all of which support progress toward humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness and crises response.
“Contributing to the cultivation of the Sri Lankan Marine Corps and setting conditions to promote a strong and enduring partnership between the U.S. and Sri Lanka was what we set out to accomplish,” according to Lt. Col. Matthew Lundgren, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 4th Marines, 11th MEU. “The experience we had in Trincomalee with these Marines proved to me our military-to-military partnership in this region will be able work together if needed during a time of crises.”
Units from the 11th MEU’s ground combat element, logistics combat element, aviation combat element, and its command element’s Maritime Raid Force participated in the TSC exchange.
“The MRF worked with the Sri Lankan Navy’s Special Boat Squadron, which is comparable to the US’ Navy SEALs,” said Capt. Jared B. Picard, a platoon commander with MRF, 11th MEU. “The training was beneficial to us and the SBS because it allowed us to refine our tactics, techniques, and procedures within the three skillsets of specialized insertion and extraction; visit, board, search and seizure; and close-quarter tactics. The training was beneficial to the SBS because they had never before conducted fast rope training, and it was an opportunity for them to refine their CQT and VBSS methods.”
The MRF and SBS conducted specialized insertion and extraction techniques training by fast roping from a 30-foot tower and then from a UH-1Y Huey helicopter; VBSS with an emphasis on hook-and-climb best-practices; CQT; and EOD detection techniques.
“This TSC was important to us specifically because it allowed us to conduct hook-and-climb training while underway,” said Picard. “We haven’t done this since our Certification Exercise, which was our last event prior to deployment. We need to maintain this currency because [conducting VBSS] is a likely tasking we’ll receive from our higher headquarters in the 5th Fleet area of operations, and which are crucial for maritime interdiction operations during follow-on tasking.”
The TSC also provided opportunities for key leader engagement between representatives from both nations’ naval services to sit down and discuss the future of their partnership based off of the shared experiences. In these discussions, both sides provided feedback and were afforded the opportunity to provide constructive criticism aimed to further develop future training.
“The BLT leadership reported positive feedback in terms of the interactions between each side’s Marines, emphasizing a high degree of enthusiasm and professionalism from both sides,” according to Lundgren.
Both the U.S. and Sri Lanka have a continuing interest in strengthening their partnership based on common interests related to sustaining maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness, and the security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Progress toward this is made possible through integrated training at all levels.
“Collectively we believe NCO and small unit leadership development will be integral to the progression of the Sri Lankan Marine Corps,” said Lundgren. “Allowing for a unit’s leadership at that level – at the corporal and sergeant ranks – to make decisions and assign tasks in line with commander’s intent is one aspect of what sets us apart from other service branches; we shared this idea with our Sri Lankan counterparts.”
In the U.S. Marine Corps, emphasis is put on NCO leadership; these Marines are often referred to as the ‘backbone’ of the Marine Corps.
“I learned that the Sri Lankan Marines are very hungry to learn,” said Sgt. Anthony Sandusky, a squad leader with Alpha Co., BLT 1/4, 11th MEU. “I expected the language barrier between us to be our most difficult obstacle, but they have a good grasp of the English language and an even stronger foundation of military tactics. They were easy to work with on account of their discipline and eagerness to learn. I am grateful to have had the opportunity and it is an experience I will always remember.”
The 11th MEU and Makin Island ARG leadership believe and speak to enabling credible, ready maritime forces help to preserve peace, prevent conflict and respond to emerging crises. This TSC was a step in the direction toward reinforcing this bilateral capability and shared responsibility in the region.
“I was most impressed with the Sri Lankan Marines’ seemingly mutual desire to train with us, and after getting to know them, I learned we had a lot in common,” said Sandusky. “They’re very similar to us in that many of them come from backgrounds of prior service with different branches, they had jobs and lives outside of their Marine Corps, but they’re just like us because they volunteered; they wanted to be Marines.”
The Makin Island ARG and 11th MEU are currently at sea aboard the USS Makin Island (LHD 8), USS Somerset, and USS Comstock (LSD 45) as part of their Western Pacific deployment 16-2, which departed from San Diego mid-October.