The landings were planned for Chulu Beach on the northwest side of Tinian, less than one kilometer (0.62 miles) from North Field, but were called off due to the discovery of an endangered turtle species nesting.
“It is an endangered sea turtle,” said Bill Kavanagh, the regional and environmental coordinator for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Marianas. “So we saw the hatching window would coincide with the window of the exercise and alerted military planners with alternative COAs [courses of action] a month ago.”
VS16 is a biennial, U.S.-only, field training exercise with a focus on integration of joint training. This training enables real-world proficiency in sustaining joint forces through detecting, locating, tracking and engaging units at sea, in the air, on land, and in cyberspace in response to a range of mission areas.
The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit had planned several small craft landings over several days as part of an amphibious assault and island seizure operation. The landing was only one part of an exercise involving 18,000 service members, a carrier strike group, expeditionary strike group, land-based air forces and a Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
“We need the ability to train to conduct beach landings,” said Lt. Col. Brian Greene, commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. “However, the strength of our MAGTF is the ability to project forces from the ship to an objective through the use of helicopters as well as surface craft. The MAGTF allows for a range of operations and we welcome the opportunity to exercise that flexibility.”
According to the biological opinion of the Marianas Island Training and Testing Environmental Impact Statement, the military has restrictions on what they can and cannot do during beach landing exercises if they encounter turtle nests.
The beaches undergo monthly inspections by contractors and NAVFAC natural resources specialists to look for Green or Hawksbill sea turtle nesting indicators and must also be inspected six hours prior to a military landing. If a turtle nest is spotted, the entire beach may be shut down to military training or the nests could be marked for bypass and standoff.
Kavanagh’s team from NAVFAC works with Joint Region Marianas’ Mariana Islands Range Complex Operations section. JRM’s mission is to provide executive-level installation management support to all Department of Defense components and tenants on Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in support of training in the Marianas.
“I think [the decision to close the beach] demonstrates our commitment to building relationships in the area and we understand we have to work closely to protect the environment while being able to continue to provide realistic training,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Walter Hattermer, the director of operations for JRM.
Story by Capt. Timothy Irish