IQUIQUE, Chile -- Training and interacting constantly in both official and unofficial settings, the Marines of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 24 have proven adept at making ‘amigos’ among their Chilean counterparts.
The Marines bid farewell last week to their most recent hosts in Partnership of the Americas 2007, Destacamento (DIM) Lynch of Chile’s Infanteria de Marina, or Marine Corps. Hosted on their base and largely in their rooms, the Marines enjoyed a week of hospitality in Punto Gruesa, near the northern port city of Iquique. From a combined live-fire exercise to social events to displays and demonstrations of weapons and systems, the Marines of each nation reached out to the other and took great pride in the bond of brotherhood that unites all ‘Soldiers of the Sea.’
“They were really great hosts, not only in a professional manner, but on a personal level. Particularly at chow, their guys would intentionally mix in with us and start conversations with our Marines, and even though most of our guys couldn’t speak the language, they’d try their best to communicate,” said Sgt. Franklin M. Rivas of Queens, N.Y., personnel chief for SPMAGTF 24. “Pretty much every conversation we had ended up with jokes and laughter,” he added.
Welcome receptions, presentations of history and capabilities, static displays of weapons and systems, sports competition and professional military education all took place within the first few days of the visit. The Marines were particularly impressed with how Chilean Marines prized their history and origins with a reverence very similar to the one they express about their own Corps, and found an immediate connection there. It wasn’t hard to find other connections as the troops got to know each other, and mutual respect across the ranks was as evident within DIM Lynch as it is within the ranks of the 24th Marine Regiment.
When it came to weapons displays, the camaraderie easily flowed as Marines were each anxious to check out the tools of war their counterparts employ. The hosts set up components of their coastal defense battery, including a 155mm Howitzer cannon, and a missile battery. Although some Chileans spoke English fairly easily, others looked to Marines fluent in Spanish, such as Maj. Luis M. Gomez of Murrieta, Calif., to help with translation despite a strong grasp of the language.
“I would often tell them to slow down, since their slang and their speed made it hard to understand,” said Gomez, a CH-46 pilot for Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 764 at Edwards Air Base, Calif. “But they definitely felt more relaxed, especially the junior officers, and they found they could better get their point across because I could understand them in Spanish.”
Prior to the start of static displays, the first order of business for SPMAGTF 24 was erecting its Unit Operations Center in order to both serve as a command post and give demonstrations to the Chilean Marines, who displayed a strong level of interest in the system. The UOC provides voice and data communication, and is unique in that it encapsulates all equipment that is necessary for functioning at the regimental level, according to Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey A. Welch, communications maintenance chief for 24th Marine Regiment. Welch added that the system forges a common capability set that can be used across all levels of command throughout the battlefield.
The UOC was set up and fully operational on base at Punta Gruesa in just two and a half hours, easily besting the command’s targeted time of four hours. When asked how communications were established within such a short window of time, Marines were quick to praise the hard work of others around them who made it possible.
“It was through the hard work and initiative of junior Marines, such as Lance Cpl. (David R.) Stanton, Lance Cpl. (Chris N.) Buckles Haley and Cpl. (Truen K.) Taylor. They took charge, and every one knew his job,” said Cpl. Zach D. Zapotoski of Lowville, N.Y., data chief for SPMAGTF 24, from Marine Forces Reserve. “Credit can be given to their leadership, and to the experience that was forged in Fuerte Aguayo and Cifuncho, Chile.”
Once again, the UOC drew distinguished visitors, as Brig. Gen. John M. Croley, commander, Marine Corps Forces South, attended a demonstration of its capabilities. In addition, Chilean Capitan de Navio (Col.) Christian Del Real, Chief of Staff of the Chilean Marine Corps, followed in the footsteps of the highest ranks of Chilean Navy and Marine Corps leadership who had visited SPMAGTF 24 in its previous sites during this exercise.
Professional military exchanges and official receptions continued throughout the week, as well as a three-day, three-sport tournament and an ‘asado’ barbeque that culminated the week of exchanges. Chilean Capitan de Navio (Col.) Humberto Mella, Comandante of DIM Lynch, presented the championship trophy to Col. Brent Dunahoe, commanding officer of 24th Marine Regiment, in a gesture of friendship and solidarity.
As unit gifts were exchanged, both Mella and Dunahoe emphasized to all the Marines present that they truly have gained lifelong friends in the other corps. The kinship expressed throughout the warehouse where it was held, as U.S. and Chilean Marines joked with each other, exchanged insignia and posed for endless photos, made that clear.