USS KEARSARGE -- Force Reconnaissance Marines and special amphibious reconnaissance corpsmen provide the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit with capabilities that extend beyond the barriers of every day operations. The MEU becomes more than just combat ready with recon assets; they gain surveillance, ship-born raid, airborne raid and visit, board, search and seizure capabilities. The Recon Marines comprise more than the standard unit. They are the Maritime Raid Force.
The range of capabilities the Maritime Raid Force brings to the table open up the field of crises the MEU can respond to.
“We provide reconnaissance and surveillance, direct action raids … and visit, board, search and seizure,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel B. Burnap, a reconnaissance Marine with Force Reconnaissance Platoon, Maritime Raid Force, 26th MEU.
Versatility is important to the MEU. In order to meet the demands required of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force, it must have the assets in place to respond to every kind of mission within the military spectrum of operations.
“There’s no mission we can’t respond to,” said Sgt. David M. Soliani, a reconnaissance Marine with Force Reconnaissance Platoon, Maritime Raid Force, 26th MEU. “With our capabilities we can respond to a full spectrum of missions utilizing a variety of methods of insertion and execution.”
The Raid Force bridges gaps in planning with reports, imagery and intelligence gathered from reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The commander of the MEU uses this data to shape the objectives of different units involved in a mission.
“Before a commander puts troops on the battlefield he wants knowledge of what’s there in advance,” said Burnap. “[Reconnaissance and surveillance] gives the commander a better picture before he orders his troops.”
In addition to this, the Raid Force also conducts visit, board, search and seizure. This amphibious based mission type involves the raid of a ship in order to claim or reclaim control from, to prevent the transportation of weapons by or the collection of intelligence from enemy forces.
“As a Raid Force we’re trained to conduct an opposed nighttime boarding where the opposing force is armed and has deadly intent,” said Burnap. “We’re able to intercept and intervene enemy forces on vessels smuggling weapons, drugs or any number of things that are dangerous to our national interests.”
This type of operation is just one mission set the MRF offers the combatant commander responsible for the areas the MEU is operating in at that time.
“We are a tool that the MEU can utilize to complete this kind of mission,” said Burnap. “Having this potential makes us a greater asset for the Department of Defense.”
This places a significant amount of responsibility on the shoulders of the Marines and SARCs with the raid force. They train and utilize the experience of the more seasoned team members to improve readiness and uphold their responsibilities.
“We’ve facilitated a wide range of training that started with standard operating procedures and reconnaissance patrols,” said Soliani. “We’re now working on integration with the Amphibious Ready Group and MEU doing advanced training like VBSS.”
Other training they completed in preparation for deployment included airborne school, dive school and free fall jump school, according to Soliani.
“The training is difficult,” said Soliani. “You have to be a certain kind of individual to want to do what we do.”
The raid force is preparing to deploy with the MEU and Amphibious Squadron 4 to the 5th and 6th Fleet Areas of responsibility later this year. They’re currently involved in the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise aboard the USS Kearsarge, conducting visit, board, search and seizure and reconnaissance and surveillance training.
“Each platoon has mastered their specialized set of skills,” said Burnap. “We’re finishing up our certification now on ARG/MEU-Ex and after this we’ll be ready to deploy.”