13th MEU Maritime Raid Force reinforces counter-piracy operations in Gulf of Aden

15 Apr 2011 | By Cpl. Christopher O’Quin

In the early 1800’s, during the First Barbary War, 1st Lt. Presley O’Bannon took a contingent of Marines and mercenaries, to fight pirates who killed sailors and captured merchant vessels near the shores of Tripoli, earning a place in Marine Corps lore. Now more than 200 years later, the threat of piracy has resurfaced in the Gulf of Aden, threatening the free and safe use of the shipping lanes sailed by mariners.

In the past two years, Marines and sailors have countered the threat of piracy in the Gulf now known as Pirate Alley. In 2009, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit /Boxer Amphibious Ready Group supported the rescue Richard Phillips, captain of the merchant vessel Maersk Alabama, who was taken hostage by four pirates. A year later, the 15th MEU/Peleliu ARG recaptured the merchant vessel, Magellan Star, from nine pirates and rescued all of its 11 crewmembers.   

Now in 2011, the 13th MEU has returned to support maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts with a Maritime Raid Force, a new capability that can eviscerate the scourge of piracy plaguing the Gulf of Aden. The 13th MEU MRF is a team of Marines and sailors trained to conduct Maritime Interdiction Operations including Visit, Board, Search and Seizure and Gas and Oil Platform seizures.

“We’re Marines, it’s what we do, part of our purpose is to protect naval shipping,” said a Marine with the MRF who has been conducting VBSS missions for eight years. “The most satisfying part of completing the mission is getting the chance to prove the tactics you were taught.”

Many Marines and sailors within the MRF have diverse skill sets and occupations that enhance and strengthen its capabilities.

“The Marines within the raid force come from multiple units within the MEU,” said Capt. Adam Burch, Assault Element commander and Force Reconnaissance Platoon commander. “The assault element is made up of the Force Reconnaissance Platoon and the security element comes from Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1.  The raid force headquarters, assault and security elements are complimented by other enabling forces including a forward air controller, explosive ordnance techs, CI/HUMINT personnel, radio reconnaissance Marines, intelligence analysts, communicators, and combat camera Marines.”

This diverse team trained many months before 13th MEU left San Diego Harbor. Some of MRF elements began independent training in July 2010 consisting of close quarters marksmanship, dynamic entry (breaching), and urban sniper marksmanship.  In September, I Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group evaluated the 13th MEU MRF as they completed exercises starting with Interoperability (INTEROP) aboard Camp Pendleton. This provided the units within the MRF the opportunity to develop working relationships and operating procedures. 

Realistic Urban Training (RUT) at Port Hueneme and Point Mugu in Ventura County, CA incorporated MEU aviation assets and the MRF worked toward conducting full-mission-profile VBSS and GOPLAT operations.  The MRF continued to train together during four successive MEU at-sea periods, conducting additional VBSS, GOPLAT, and precision raid profiles leading up to the deployment in mid-February.     

“We built this capability at the request of Geographic Combatant Commanders,” said Lt. Col. Vincent Lumalcuri, the commanding officer of the MRF and the executive officer of 13th MEU. “This was a request that came out back in 2009. They wanted a level four VBSS capability out of the MEU’s who deployed as theater CENTCOM reserve. The Navy and Marine Corps put together the concept to restart a MRF capability with MEU’s. They tasked us with not only performing VBSS but doing [GOPLAT] take downs which have not been part of our previous MEU’s in recent memory. Right now the 13th MEU has the most capable MRF that’s deployed in theater, in regards to the last few years.”

During deployment the MRF consistently trains and readies themselves for the moment they need to take action against threats.

“Every week we train with close quarters combat marksmanship, room clearing and we are often studying in the classroom,” said Lance Cpl. Adam A. Duerschmidt, a rifleman with the MRF. “We have to constantly train. Its one thing to clear buildings with a few rooms but it’s something else clearing one massive structure where you can’t see beyond 30 meters. We are always in a state of alert, ready to respond in short notice so we can hit quick and hard.”

Marines and sailors with the 13th MEU MRF have set their sights on the Gulf of Aden ready to swiftly oppose those who threaten the security and peace of those who sail through its waters.

“As part of the Joint Force, the Marine Corps and the Navy work together to leverage the significant advantages that amphibious forces provide a maritime power like the United States,” said Gen. James F. Amos, 35th and current Commandant of the Marine Corps. “As benefits our expeditionary nature, Marines will be forward deployed and engaged in areas of instability and potential conflict.”

The MRF descends from a lineage of sea-borne warriors who can respond to piracy just as Marines did on the shores of Tripoli more than 200 years ago.

“It’s right of line, I think it’s a natural mission set for the Marines and Navy,” said Lumalcuri. “The Navy Marine Corps Team has a proud history of fighting pirates and it started out in this part of the world, we’re pretty close to it. We are going back to our roots in many ways. Presley O’Bannon would be proud to see Marines fast roping onto pirate ships today.”

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