TOULON, France --
The beautiful city of Toulon, France is located along the Mediterranean coast and is best known for its naval base and harbor. With its rugged landscape and crystal, clear blue waters, it is home to many naval ships and vessels of the French Maritime Forces Command, or French Navy. This year, United States Marine and Naval officers with 2nd Marine Division traveled to Toulon for Exercise NARVAL to conduct planning with French forces for Exercise ORION 2023, scheduled to take place this upcoming January. ORION will be the largest airborne and amphibious exercise coordinated by French forces since the 1980s, with an emphasis in high intensity combat and amphibious warfare. NARVAL was an exercise crucial to the success of this upcoming large operation. Units from both the French Army, Navy and other European countries, along with Marines and Sailors with 2nd MarDiv took part in this large-scale planning exercise.
“An invitation was sent from 6th Light Armored Brigade to have Marine Corps officers integrate into specific staff cells. They specifically requested officers from operations, intelligence, logistics, fire support, engineering, and reconnaissance,” said Major Robert Viehmeyer, a key staff member of NARVAL, and the Future Operations officer of 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd MarDiv.
These officers were hand selected to collaborate as subject matter experts in their fields to ensure ORION was effectively planned for with French and other European counterparts. Allowing officers who specialized in their field to participate in NARVAL gave the Marines and Sailors personal insight into the French military’s training facilities, equipment, capabilities, and allowed them to give proper guidance on courses of action for each mission.
"Wars are not fought by a single service or stand-alone country. Our ability to develop relationships and conduct combined joint training with our allies and partners is critical in preparing for the next war, which will certainly require interoperability" Major Robert Viehmeyer, a key staff member of NARVAL, and the Future Operations officer of 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd MarDiv.
“[I] was brought on to assist with planning of naval and artillery fires,” explained Chief Warrant Officer 3 Peter Cestaro, another key staff member of NARVAL, and the Naval Gunner Liason Officer with Fire Support Battery, 10th Marine Regiment. “[U]ltimately, the United States military officers were able to provide a different point of view during the planning process and bring up any potential issues that may arise in a combat environment.”
While Marines and Sailors were comfortable providing input and suggestions to their counterparts, they were challenged communicating immediately due to the language barrier. They worked together with Major Jeremie Crosiet, a French officer with 6th LAB, and the Foreign Exchange Officer of 2nd MarDiv, to help bridge the gap between both militaries and ensure their suggestions and recommendations were effectively conveyed in their group cells and to commanders.
“As an exchange officer, I am a member of the Foreign Personnel Exchange Program. 6th LAB assigned me to 2nd Marine Division to be in charge of long-term planning of Division level exercises,” said Crosiet. “I also help the Division units plan exercises with their French counterparts, and with French units in general.”
Exercises like NARVAL are not only important for the training that is conducted, but also to increase joint capabilities.
“Wars are not fought by a single service or stand-alone country. Our ability to develop relationships and conduct combined joint training with our allies and partners is critical in preparing for the next war, which will certainly require interoperability,” explained Viehmeyer.
Photo by Sgt. Alexa Hernandez
Officers with the French Army conduct pistol training aboard Porte Helicopteres Amphibie Dixmude, the French Navy’s Amphibious Helicopter Carrier, during Exercise NARVAL 2022 off the coast of Toulon, France, Nov. 21, 2022. Exercise NARVAL is designed to assess the potential for future battalion or brigade-level amphibious exercises with French amphibious forces.
Over the past couple of years, both militaries have trained with each other for major exercises including Large Scale Exercise, Bold Alligator, Skrenvil, Burmese Chase, Service Level Training Exercise, Baccarat, Manticore, Rolling Thunder, MEFEX, and Dynamic Cape. Additionally, a formal partnership was implemented by the United States and France to continue the consistent, yearly training between both forces.
“Last month, I worked with 10th Marine Regiment for Exercise Rolling Thunder in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and I was surprised with how disciplined the Marines were and how disciplined their training was. [T]hey did not need much to successfully operate in the field and conduct training; they are tough," explained Captain Sebastian Limouzy, a French officer with 3rd Marine Artillery Regiment. "The partnership between 6th LAB and 2nd MarDiv has provided a better mutual understanding between French and U.S. operations and has had a positive impact in each forces’ best practices,” Limouzy continued.
With NARVAL ending, Marines and Sailors with 2nd MarDiv are prepared to remain the most lethal and ready fighting force. As the new year approaches, 2nd MarDiv is looking forward to participating in ORION 2023 and continuing to train to ensure Marines and Sailors are prepared for the next fight, wherever that may be.