“How will your team do it?”
This is the question the I Marine Expeditionary Force’s Deputy Commanding General, Maj. Gen. David Coffman, posed to the members of the AMERICA Amphibious Ready Group/15th Marine Expeditionary Unit team who sat before him, preparing to start their first iteration of pre-deployment training, the Rapid Response Planning Process.
“Assume complex, contested five-domain environments, and make sure you can operate in all five,” stated Coffman. “This brings you a lot of risk and great opportunities. You are going to figure out how to thrive in chaos.”
It is exactly the kind of speech needed to pump up a room full of ready-to-deploy Marines and Sailors about to dive into a full immersion of the Rapid Response Planning Process, or R2P2 as it’s commonly referred. R2P2 is an expedited method for planning missions that allow the Marine Expeditionary Unit to be the nation’s premiere rapid response force. This is done by condensing the traditional Marine Corps Planning Process into fewer steps and setting time constraints on those steps to come out of all the chaos of a crisis with a fool-proof plan within six hours.
“We do not know what you will be tasked with. The world gets a vote for that,” Coffman added. “Just know this is no longer a drill, this is varsity.”
The ability for thousands of Marines and Sailors to receive an order, organize, strategize, construct a plan, and be ready to execute a mission within six hours doesn’t just happen overnight. It is why these future deployers spent two weeks in January 2017, perfecting the process and practicing it over and over again so they could be ready when their nation calls.
It is the purpose of the Marine Corps after all, right? So it’s only fitting a Marine Expeditionary Unit, the embodiment of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, has the ability to be ready at a moment’s notice – especially for the 15th MEU, a force with a strong tradition of being the first to fight.
One of the 15th MEU’s most noteworthy triumphs was in Afghanistan in 2001, after the attack on our nation Sept. 11, when the American military focused its might on defeating Al-Qaeda. Two months after the devastating tragedy, Marines were the first major ground forces in Afghanistan. And on Nov. 25, 2001, AH-1W attack helicopters and CH-53E Super Stallions loaded with combat-ready Marines of the 15th MEU launched the longest amphibious-heliborne assault in history.
The 15th MEU also helped to establish the first U.S. base in Afghanistan, known as Camp Rhino, and set the stage for the capture of Kandahar Airport just a few weeks later.
Through this MEU’s decisive actions and many others before and after it, the Marine Corps’ maritime pre-positioned forces continue the legacy as our nation’s most efficient and effective U.S. response option when faced with unexpected threats.
But, the road to readiness is by no means an easy path, and the Marines and Sailors at the R2P2 training conference took off on this road running. Each day they progressed by using notional scenarios of possible missions they might face on deployment —from humanitarian and peacekeeping missions to full-scale combat engagements, on extremely short notice.
Within the first few days, the Battalion Landing Team, comprised of Marines from 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, planned how to conduct a vertical raid from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. From there the situations only became more challenging and complex. And, by the second week’s end, the ARG/MEU team was able to plan a mission to provide humanitarian assistance and relief within a six hour time window.
“When you get an order on such short notice, it’s a rush to plan. You’re fitting a whole day’s worth of planning in six hours,” said 2nd Lt. Sean Gallagher, a platoon commander with the BLT. “You think six hours is so much time, but then when you look at the clock, five hours have already gone by.”
No one knows where the next conflict or crisis will emerge. Ridding the world of these threats requires a lightweight, nimble force that not only can respond rapidly, but also take control when it gets there.
But merely planning a mission was only half the battle. This Navy-Marine Corps team can only be successful if they master the art of coordinating with each other to build a partnership strong enough to thrive during their deployment.
“We need to be shoulder-to-shoulder in all aspects because this is a partnership that needs to protect our nation,” said Captain Homer Denius, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 3.
Going from ship to shore and figuring out what aircraft should take off from what ship takes a lot of synchronization, which is easier said than done.
Luckily, this ARG/MEU team is armed with the USS AMERICA. She not only adds a unique aspect to the deployment as the first ship of its kind to be built with additional air support capabilities, but the USS America is also designed specifically to support airborne-amphibious assaults.
The current ARG/MEU team is comprised of the USS AMERICA (LHA-6), the USS SAN DIEGO (LPD-22) and the USS PEARL HARBOR (LSD- 52); the landing force is comprised of some of the most historic units this country has seen – the 15th MEU Command Element, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines serving as the Ground Combat Element; the Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 (Reinforced) serving as the Aviation Combat Element; and Combat Logistics Battalion 15 serving as the Logistics Combat Element.
How will this team do it?
Training hard, fighting harder, and continuing to carry on the tradition of excellence as America’s maritime force in readiness.
Story by 2nd Lt. Maria Arnone