15th MEU, America ARG complete combat rehearsal Alligator Dagger
By Capt. Maida Zheng, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit
DJIBOUTI -- The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) concluded Exercise Alligator Dagger, the largest regional amphibious combat rehearsal, Sept. 20.
Alligator Dagger is designed to integrate and synchronize capabilities that are available to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) both afloat and ashore to ensure forces are postured and prepared to execute operations at sea, from the sea, and ashore.
The 15th MEU has been the first to fight, both from the sea and ashore. The MEU spearheaded Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992, launched the longest amphibious-heliborne assault in history into Afghanistan in October 2001 and established Camp Rhino, and boarded German-owned hijacked Motor Vessel (M/V) Magellan Star in 2010 to swiftly regain control of the vessel, detaining nine Somali pirates.
“Our distinct ability to gain access to critical areas anywhere in the world with ground, air and logistics forces enables us to counter the actions of non-state actors who may threaten the security and stability of the region,” said Col. Joseph Clearfield, the 15th MEU commanding officer.
“The dangers we are seeing in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility are extremist ideologies that have complete disregard for humanity and pose a serious terrorist threat to this region and to our homeland. We are looking forward to working ‘by, with, and through’ partner forces to militarily defeat violent extremist organizations in the area of responsibility,” Clearfield added.
Alligator Dagger provided an unparalleled opportunity for the ARG and MEU to practice critical mission sets that enhance capabilities inherent to the Navy-Marine Corps team. Marines and Sailors rehearsed various water and land-based exercises, ranging from live-fire events and explosive ordnance disposal missions conducted on ranges in the vicinity of Arta Beach, to visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations on static and motor platforms off the coast of Djibouti.
The 15th MEU’s Force Reconnaissance Detachment completed two VBSS full-mission profiles, practicing the same mission set the Marines conducted for MV Magellan Star. First, the Helicopter Assault Force fast-roped via an MH-60S Sea Hawk onto USS LEWIS B. PULLER (ESB 3), an expeditionary sea base designed to provide dedicated support for air mine countermeasures and special warfare missions around the globe.
The Reconnaissance Marines quickly descended and searched the vessel, detaining any hostile individuals in the process. The next day, the Boat Assault Force moved into position via rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and latched a ladder onto the side of the ship to begin their assault.
“During both operations, the Sea Hawk served as an aerial sniper over-watch and close air support (CAS) platform as the Marines took control of the vessel,” explained U.S. Navy Lt. Laura Starck, the MH-60S Sea Hawk pilot who flew during the mission. “This is a typical integration piece for us and proves our capabilities as a multi-mission platform.”
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 (Reinforced) recertified several CH-53E Super Stallion and MV-22B Osprey pilots for night systems qualifications in high-light level and low-light level, as well as AH-1Z Cobra and UH-1Y Huey pilots in close air support during Alligator Dagger. These qualifications enable the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) to provide the six functions of Marine Aviation to the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF).
“The ACE’s Marine Air Traffic Control Mobile Team provided air traffic control functions while training with Djiboutian tower personnel, enabling safe air operations in the area as well as developing working relationships with the host nation airfield,” explained Maj. Bjorn Thoreen, the operations officer for VMM-161.
AV-8Bs, RQ-21As and H-1s conducted CAS and tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP) mission rehearsals while MV-22s and CH-53s conducted forward arming and refueling point (FARP), TRAP and casualty evacuation training. The ACE externally lifted a 21,600 pound aircraft tow tractor from USS America (LHA 6) to USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), which helped enable the LSD to become an air capable ship.
“Having the LSD as an air capable ship enables the MAGTF commander to have another afloat forward staging base option in the area if desired to conduct operations from,” explained Thoreen.
The training achieved by the ACE during Alligator Dagger was critical to prepare for expeditionary operations in the CENTCOM area of operations.
Throughout the course of Alligator Dagger, the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1st Battalion, 5th Marines focused its training on core infantry skills.
“The austere environment presented a unique opportunity to rehearse infantry actions and employ weapon systems in support of maneuver in the world’s roughest terrain and in an environment most of our Marines are not accustomed to operating in,” said Maj. Joseph Fontanetta, the BLT operations officer. “We employed all organic weapon systems and conducted supported live-fire attacks up to the squad level, sustaining skills for possible real-world employment,” he explained.
The BLT's motorized units, made up of the Combined Anti-Armor Team and Light Armored Reconnaissance, conducted static gunnery for all crew-served weapons systems as well as fire and maneuver up to the section level.
The BLT also conducted a fire support coordination exercise that included all of the BLT’s Fire Support Teams as well as artillery, mortars and integration with the MEU's Air Naval Gun Liaison Company, the ARG's MH-60 detachment, Hueys, Cobras and Harriers with the ACE. The BLT practiced combined arms employment to support maneuver, conducting basic call for fire, immediate suppression, illumination, and suppression of enemy air defense missions.
"By integrating the above elements to support the maneuver of ground forces, we were able to demonstrate our ability to bring all elements of the MAGTF to bear on enemy forces,” said Fontanetta.
The Logistics Combat Element (LCE) provided combat logistics support and sustainment for all elements ashore throughout the execution of Alligator Dagger. Support ranged from food and water resupply to the execution of convoy operations that helped sustain forces ashore.
Engineers produced more than 46,000 gallons of water over a period of eight days. The Landing Support Detachment established a Landing Force Support Party executing 77 hours of operations during a 10 day period -- serving as a central hub for entry and exit of equipment and personnel for the America ARG.
“This training enabled the LCE to conduct expeditionary operations providing combat logistics support from the sea and facilitate the operational tempo and reach of the battalion landing team to operate deeper into the Arta battle space without delaying or degrading training opportunities,” said Maj. George Steinfels, the Combat Logistics Battalion 15 operations officer. “The CLB provides a unique advantage which enables this MAGTF to sustain operations afloat and ashore for extended periods.”
Within 48 hours of arriving ashore, the LCE commenced water production and the establishment of a beach support area/combat logistics support area that provided a command and control hub for all elements arriving ashore.
The LCE quickly and effectively transitioned inland, conducting more than 40 combat logistics patrols for over 120 hours of convoy operations, transporting an impressive 25,400 gallons of water, 590 gallons of fuel, 7,800 meals, approximately 3,500 kilograms of ice and 18 pallets of ammunition, supporting more than 400 personnel movements covering a total of 3,870 miles of road.
The LCE’s ability to sustain the MEU during Alligator Dagger demonstrated its ability to sustain the MEU in real world operations – demonstrating the expeditionary prowess of the amphibious force.
"The ARG/MEU's ability to rapidly maneuver integrated Navy and Marine Corps forces from across the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility to provide immediate response options is key to ensuring command and control of forces at sea, from the sea, and ashore," said Brig. Gen. Frank Donovan, commander of Naval Amphibious Forces, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. "Alligator Dagger is a critical combat rehearsal that ensures our Sailors and Marines are fully capable of conducting operations across the full spectrum of conventional, unconventional and hybrid warfare. After seeing the ARG/MEU complete a series of complex rehearsals in austere conditions, I'm confident that they are postured and prepared to execute any crisis response mission within the AOR at a moment's notice."
Serving as the nation’s premier crisis response force, the 15th MEU and America ARG are forward deployed and poised to rapidly respond to crises in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility.