POHANG, Republic of Korea --
On an overcast July morning in Pohang, Republic of Korea, assault amphibious vehicles cut through the sea toward Dogu Beach. As the AAVs emerge from the surf, the water displaced by the mass of the vehicles surges along the beach.
The AAVs roll onto the sand, dripping water and leaving deep tread marks in the earth. The ramps lower and Marine infantrymen rush onto the beach.
“Move!” someone yells.
The Marines glide in practiced formations up the sand. Within minutes, the Marines have taken control of the beach. About a quarter mile from the landing site, their Korean counterparts have performed something similar on another stretch of Dogu shoreline.
The amphibious assault was part of a larger bilateral training exercise between Reserve Marines and the Republic of Korea Marine Corps.
Marines with 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, a battalion with 23rd Marine Regiment, participated in Exercise Peninsula Express 15 at Camp Mujuk, Republic of Korea, June 27 - July 11, 2015.
The exercise is this year’s eighth iteration of the Korean-Marine Exchange Program, an ongoing series of exercises between the U.S. and Korean Marine Corps, designed to enhance interoperability and strengthen U.S.-Korea relations. Up until Peninsula Express, all training exercises under the KMEP umbrella involved only the Active Component of the U.S. Marine Corps.
“We’re the first Reserve infantry battalion to participate in the KMEP program,” said Maj. Michael J. Mulvaney, operations officer with 2nd Bn., 24th Marines. “It’s a very large accomplishment for us. With the structure of Marine Forces Reserve, we have a task force [composed] of units from across MARFORRES to support the battalion.”
Also joining the Reserve Marines was Company L, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, an active duty unit from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, falling under control of 2nd Bn., 24th Marines. This was a key element of the exercise that facilitate interoperability between the reserve and active components.
After pairing each U.S. Marine company with a ROK Marine company, the Marines began exchanging tactics and techniques in combat marksmanship, urban patrolling, mountain warfare and amphibious operations across military ranges and complexes in Pohang.
"We're different, but we're also similar in a lot of different ways," said Capt. Daniel R. Scharf, commanding officer of Company G, 2nd Bn., 24th Marines. "From task organization to how we approach certain tactics, the ROK Marines are more like us than they are unlike us."
In addition to the tactical and technical familiarity, the U.S. and ROK Marines gained cultural familiarity with one another.
“Both the U.S. and ROK Marines benefit from this training because we get to see how another nation’s Marines train and communicate,” said Cpl. Leo Choi, a ROK infantryman with 6th Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment. “Being able to observe and talk with each other gives us an opportunity to learn more about each other’s culture.”
Even at the battalion level, the U.S. and ROK Marines worked together to plan key portions of the exercise.
"Every day, the ROK command element would come to Camp Mujuk to conduct a combined commander's update brief,” said Mulvaney. “Our staffs would sit down daily, providing updates and perspective on how the exercise was progressing and how to further integrate our training”
The simulated amphibious assault on Dogu Beach was one of the highlights of the exercise. With AAV crewmen from both the U.S. and ROK Marine Corps working alongside each other, the Marines were able to launch a combined assault on Dogu Beach.
"From what we've seen working with the ROK Marines, they are very competent at their job," said Cpl. Joshua Roel C. Conde, crew chief with Company A, 4th AAV Battalion. “We actually wish we had more time with them.”
The infantrymen were also able to gain more experience with the vehicles, which are often used to take Marines ashore during amphibious operations.
“Some of the most practical training we have received is the AAV training,” said Cpl. Dominick S. Laporte, a platoon sergeant with Co. G, 2nd Bn., 24th Marines. “It’s good to gain familiarity with these vehicles because we could be asked to use them in combat.”
Because the Marines with the battalion are spread throughout the Midwest in the U.S., the opportunity to practice amphibious operations was a rarity. The training allowed the unit to familiarize itself with Marine Corps amphibious capabilities.
“Everything we're doing in the world is tied to a naval operation," said Mulvaney. "Getting from ship to shore is always going to be an important aspect of our amphibious capability."
By the end of the exercise, Marines from the two different nations learned fundamental lessons from the time they spent with each other.
“What we can all take away from this is how to be a better Marine overall,” said Lance Cpl. Alexander C. Henson, rifleman with Co. G, 2nd Bn., 24th Marines. “Their ways and our ways are a little different, but training together helps us get back to the actual Marine Corps roots. It helps us understand what it means to be a Marine: well rounded, versatile and able to tackle any challenge that comes our way.”