Photo Information

Navy Corpsmen with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force - Southern Command asses a role player at an evacuation control center during a simulated natural disaster that displaced the local populace as part the unit’s Certification Exercise aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, May 13, 2016. Marines from SPMAGTF-SC put months of pre-deployment training to the test during the three-day exercise, which evaluated the unit's ability to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Photo by Sgt. Adwin Esters

SPMAGTF-SC conducts pre-deployment Certification Exercise

3 Jun 2016 | Sgt. Adwin Esters The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Marines and sailors with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Southern Command put months of pre-deployment training to the test during a three-day Certification Exercise aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, May 11-13. 

The exercise involved all elements of SPMAGTF-SC, the second iteration of the newly formed unit set to deploy to Central America, and tested the command's response to a natural disaster scenario. The SPMAGTF consists of a Logistics Element, Aviation Element, Ground Element and a Command Element.

“The certification exercise is a field test to examine how prepared the organization is to deploy and accomplish the mission,” said Col. Thomas Prentice, the commanding officer of SPMAGTF-SC. 

During the certification exercise, SPMAGTF-SC was tasked with responding to a natural disaster in an effected area. The exercise incorporated role players acting as displaced civilians, which required each element of SPMAGTF-SC to play an important role.

The Logistics Element was tasked with organizing the transportation of personnel and civilians left stranded by the natural disaster. The Logistics Element consists of Marines and sailors and is mainly focused on engineering projects. They can also provide support that includes supply, maintenance, transportation and water production

“Acting as the maneuver element, any sort of situation where there might be a natural disaster, whether it be an earthquake or heavy storm, we would tap into our capabilities and respond to that scene and remove any individuals that need to be evacuated from that situation.” said Capt. Damon Bailey, officer in charge of the SPMAGTF-SC Logistics Element. 

The Aviation Element, in coordination with the Logistics Element, helps make it possible to evacuate those affected by the natural disaster in situations where roads and other transportation may be unavailable. 
The Aviation Element is composed of Marines from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve.

“We bring helicopter support,” said Maj. Eric Rodriguez, Aviation Element operations officer and CH-53E Super Stallion pilot. “During the pre-deployment training we conducted recovery operations, casualty evacuations and external operations to lift gear slung underneath the helicopter both under daylight and low light conditions. We can bridge the gap where the roads stop.” 

The Aviation Element also has the capacity to move Marines and sailors along with food, water and various supplies using the powerful CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters to and from an affected area depending on the needs of the operation. 

The Ground Element's advisor teams also played an important role during the exercise by providing security, which was coordinated and led by the host nation’s military. 

“Our mission during the certification exercise is the same as in country, which is to build relationships and to be a responsive force should an emergency arise,” said Maj. Patrick Temple, officer in charge of the Ground Element of SPMAGTF-SC. “We have a 'be prepared to' mission, which is to provide a maneuver element to contribute to the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief effort.”

While in Central America, the advisor teams serve as subject matter experts who advise, mentor, and train partner nation counterparts to improve interoperability and to help build their capacity to plan for and conduct missions. These interactions help to further enable our partners to provide security and prosperity to their citizens.

“The Marines were absolutely spectacular during the certification exercise,” said Prentice. “I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that if the commander of U.S. Southern Command has a mission that takes place, our Marines and sailors will be very well postured to execute that mission successfully, whatever it may be.” 

Composed of nearly 300 Marines and sailors, SPMAGTF-SC will focus on building relationships and partner nation capacity in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Belize while being prepared to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief if asked to do so. Sourced mainly from Marine Forces Reserve, the Marines and sailors came from 42 different units across 20 states and are scheduled to deploy from June until December.