POHANG, South Korea -- Republic of Korea and U.S. Marines completed a large-scale bilateral exercise here April 1.
Approximately 4,500 ROK Marines and sailors worked alongside 2,200 U.S. Marine and 2,000 Navy personnel during Korean Marine Exchange Program ‘15 to improve their combined amphibious capabilities.
“It is not always easy to integrate with the language barriers or different equipment sets, but we overcame all of that with exceptional teamwork,” said Col. Romin Dasmalchi, commanding officer, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “We do everything we can and take every opportunity we can to train with (the ROKs) to better ourselves as a bilateral team.”
The exercise included the first-ever landing of a U.S. MV-22B Osprey aircraft on a Korean amphibious assault ship, the Dokdo (LPH 6111). The Osprey was from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st MEU.
“Anytime we do something new, there is a lot of attention and focus,” said Dasmalchi. “The truth is a well-proven U.S. Marine aircraft made a routine landing on a ROK Navy ship. It was the first time for the ROK armed forces but they are very proficient in aviation operations. They took a look at this new aircraft, they did their homework and they were ready to catch it, receive passengers, and launch it. The introduction of the Osprey was a very well-run evolution.”
The KMEP participants also capitalized on the ROK-U.S. partnership by completing a combined amphibious landing, which was viewed by hundreds of high-ranking ROK and U.S. military and civilian officials from a prominent vantage point above the beaches.
“What (KMEP) provides and validates at a strategic level is that our two Marine Corps’ can partner together,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Mike Wilonsky, commanding officer, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st MEU. “Additionally, KMEP at a tactical level enables our young Marines to share ideas with their fellow Korean Marines at a very grassroots level.”
ROK Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Cho Woo Chan appreciated the opportunity to work side-by-side with his U.S. Marine counterparts.
“This was my first time working with U.S. Marines,” said Chan, a mortarman and squad leader with 33rd Battalion, 1st ROK Marine Division. “My favorite things we have done with the U.S. Marines (are) learning about their weapon systems, learning their shooting postures and taking photos with them. I learned a lot from the U.S. Marines and I plan to go back and teach my unit the different things the Marines have taught me.”
During the five-day exercise, Marines trained in various ROK Marine Corps training areas around Pohang, to include the Mountain Warfare Training Center, Military Operations in Urban Terrain town, and various live-fire ranges.
“By sharing tactics, techniques, and procedures with our partners, we can make better Marines and given the time we spend together, we’ll have a common understanding of one another,” Wilonsky said.
The ROK Armed Forces were established August 15, 1948 and they have maintained a working U.S. partnership since the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty was signed in 1953. The ROK-U.S. alliance is one of the longest-standing in modern history and its strength is evident in the several exercises - like KMEP ’15 - that occur annually.
“The (ROKs) believe that what they are doing is not just for their country, but for their Marine to the left and to their right,” said Wilonsky. “They believe in the same ethos we do. You see a fighting spirit in them that you only see in Marines.”
The U.S. forces were comprised of the USS Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st MEU. The 31st MEU, based out of Okinawa, Japan, is the only forward-deployed MEU in the U. S. Marine Corps and annually conducts two scheduled patrols in the Asia-Pacific region.
The overall objective of KMEP ’15 is to enhance amphibious operations between ROK and U.S. forces that contributes to security and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as the entire Asia-Pacific region.
After retrograding personnel and equipment, the Marines of the 31st MEU are scheduled to conclude their spring patrol within the following weeks before starting preparations for Fall Patrol ’15.