Marines fly a CH-464E Sea Knight over the Chilean countryside during Partnership of the Americas 2014. About 220 Marines and sailors are participating in the exercise with partner militaries from eight Latin American countries. (Sgt. Adwin Esters / Marine Corps)
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ORANGE, CALIF. — Marines from across the Corps are training with Latin American partners as the service displays its partnership with the Navy aboard a new amphibious ship in the region, at the same time eight nations kick off an international exercise.
Troops with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force South continues their transit aboard the amphib America as it sails from Mississippi to its homeport in San Diego. As they move along the South American coast, they’re meeting with their counterparts in several countries for training, as well as hosting them aboard the ship.
Meanwhile, Marine Corps Forces South kicked off Partnership of the Americas on Aug. 12, a 10-day humanitarian relief training exercise based in Chile. SPMAGTF-South was expected to participate, but the America is behind schedule so those Marines will only be involved in some of the planning exercises and the tail end of the training.
Several California-based aviation squadrons are participating along with members of the Reserve. Partnership of the Americas also includes troops from seven other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay.
During the humanitarian relief training, the Marines and other troops will simulate responses to crises common in Central and South America, said Staff Sgt. Earnest Barnes, the public affairs chief for MARFORSOUTH. But that can vary widely across such a large area, he added, with earthquakes being common in a country like Chile, while Guatemala is more likely to deal with volcanic eruptions or hurricanes. While that can pose some challenges, the basics of humanitarian relief, including setting up refuge for victims, creating medical facilities and assisting in recovery efforts, are usually the same, he said.
Marines are also flying CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters to land and take off from Chilean ships, he said.
“What we try to drive for, and we really hit the nail on the head this year, is the ability to show the interoperability between U.S. Forces and their partners,” Barnes said.
America on display
As the America makes its way to Chile to join Partnership of the Americas, SPMAGTF-South has been flying off the ship to meet with military officials and subject-matter experts from other countries.
In Colombia, the Marines shared skills they learned conducting counterinsurgency operations in Iraq with the local troops, said Lt. Col. George Hasseltine, SPMAGTF-South’s commanding officer. The Colombian marines then displayed how they’ve fought against the Revolutionary Armed Forces in their country, he said.
Additionally, the Marines fly South American officials onto the amphib so they can see the new ship, receive training and observe the Navy-Marine Corps partnership. In one instance, about 20 Brazilian officers and noncommissioned officers were brought aboard to develop a rapid-response plan, Hasseltine said.
Those types of exchanges will continue throughout the transit, with about seven planned throughout the trip.
The Navy billed the transit as “America visits the Americas,” and has turned the cruise into a chance to build goodwill in the region as well as work on qualifications on the new ship. There aren’t any big-deck amphibs like the America in the continent, and Brazil is the only nation with an aircraft carrier in service.
The Marines and the America have been well-received during the trip, Hasseltine said. Besides the chance to learn new techniques and procedures, officials there see the ship’s tour and training as a sign that the U.S. is committed to the region after years of focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They’re really excited to have American sailors and Marines in their country working with them again,” he said.
The transit is the maiden cruise for the America, the first ship in its class. Unlike its Tarawa-class predecessors, the America doesn’t have a well deck, but rather uses the extra space for additional aviation capabilities.
Hasseltine said that MV-22B Ospreys are taking off further away from the coast than on older ships, and the America can generate more aviation sorties than its predecessors. He said that capability will be valuable when the F-35B begins operating from sea.