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  • 2017
Alligator Dagger tests war-fighting capabilities

By Lt.Cmdr. Sandra Arnold, TF 51/5

DJIBOUTI (Sept. 4, 2017) – In the early morning hours, two miles off the coast of Djibouti, sits an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) preparing to come ashore in what will prove to be a visually breathtaking experience.

As waves of Marines launch from Landing Craft Air Cushion off USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) and USS San Diego (LPD 22), steam toward Arta Beach in a calculated formation, they strategically position themselves in preparation for an assault during Alligator Dagger – a two-week exercise that prepares incoming ARG/MEU teams in the region for operations within the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) area of responsibility. 

“An ARG/MEU brings an incredible amount of flexibility to the fight,” said Cmdr. Tom Sandoval, deputy operations director for Naval Amphibious Forces, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (TF 51/5). “Whether it be at sea or ashore, our ‘jack-of-all-trades’ team is capable of conducting missions ranging from airborne mine countermeasures, counter-piracy and maritime security operations to humanitarian aid/disaster relief missions in the world’s most volatile regions.”

Commanded by Marine Brig. Gen. Frank Donovan, TF 51/5 (the first command of its kind since World War II) integrates the ARG/MEU afloat, the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) ashore and Fleet Anti-terrorism Support Teams under one unified command structure to seamlessly form a robust and capable crisis response force. 

“Alligator Dagger is TF 51/5’s dedicated, unilateral combat rehearsal provided to the ARG/MEU, USS Puller, SPMAGTF and TF 51/5 headquarters, in which each of the elements work together as a combined Navy and Marine Corps team to practice, rehearse and exercise integrated capabilities that are available to U.S. Central Command both afloat and ashore,” said Marine Col. Howard Hall, TF 51/5 operations director.

According to Hall, this is the first opportunity for TF 51/5 Sailors and Marines to train together as a fully integrated Navy and Marine Corps team alongside the newly-commissioned USS Lewis B. Puller; an Expeditionary Mobile Base platform that will enable TF 51/5 to extend its expeditionary presence.

“We’ve been looking forward to participating in this dedicated unilateral training,” said Sandoval. “This exercise will confirm what we already know about our strengths but it will also allow us to evaluate where we can best focus our efforts in preparation for real world missions in the region – because we don’t get ‘do overs’ when it comes to crisis operations; we must be prepared to get it right the first time.” 

In addition to the combat proficiency training, this exercise will incorporate live-fire, Vessel Board Search and Seizure, Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel as well as air and amphibious assault evolutions to ensure tactical proficiency. 

Approximately 2,000 Sailors and Marines from the America-class amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), the command ship for Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 3; USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52); USS San Diego (LPD 22); USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3); Battalion Landing Team 1/5; Aviation Combat Element VMM-161 (reinforced) and the Logistics Combat Element CLB-15 are participating in the third iteration of this exercise. This is USS America’s maiden deployment to the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations and the first time USS Puller has participated in a naval exercise as a designated U.S. Navy warship.