ABOARD USS DULUTH -- Waking up before the sun peeked over the horizon, Marines and Sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's (Special Operations Capable) Maritime Special Purpose Force, were preparing their gear to conduct a Visit Board Search and Seizure exercise Jan. 28.
During the exercise, the Marines fast roped through the hell hole and out of the back of CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters onto the ship's flight deck to search for weapons and intelligence from terrorists.
Before leaping out of the helicopter, the Marines and Sailors practiced fast roping aboard the USS Tarawa with their full combat load to simulate battle.
In addition to their fast roping drills, Marines from force reconnaissance practiced flow drills by making an exact replica of the ship's floor plan from intelligence reports, according to Staff Sgt. Jeff S. Schultz, 27, an assistant team leader with 3rd Platoon, 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, 15th MEU (SOC), who is a native of Algona, Iowa.
"This training is great because it allows us to brush up on our fast roping skills," said Cpl. Jeffery O. Davis, 21, a team leader with Trailer Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 15th MEU (SOC) who is a native of Los Angeles. "It's extremely important that we get a foothold on the deck as fast as possible. That way we can definitely eliminate any threat on ship."
Following their exercise from fast roping from the flight deck of the USS Tarawa to the hanger deck, Marines and Sailors received a confirmation brief notifying them terrorists were transporting weapons headed toward Singapore.
The raid force suited up and prepared to load onto the aircraft soon after the meeting. On the way to the USS Duluth, Marines and Sailors who were laughing a joking around earlier that morning, were now focused on their mission.
"After a two-month break from training, this exercise will get us in the right mind set for what we might have to do shortly," Davis said. "By doing this training it, keeps us in the fight. The more missions we're capable of performing, the more missions the MEU will give us."
Hovering over the flight deck of the USS Duluth, the raid force quickly descended down the rope and prepared to take over the ship. Moving throughout the ship like a swarm of hornets, they took down the terrorist one by one. They found two Stinger missiles after taking control of the ship and questioning some of the terrorists.
"This is what I signed up for," Davis said. "I'm doing all the stuff they show on TV to bring people into the Armed Forces. Instead of watching the commercials, I'm the one actually doing it."
This precision raid force is capable of performing a VBSS or a limited scale direct action raid designed to destroy terrorist cells, gather intelligence, or retrieve weapons.
"Overall it was a successful mission and it was also a good refresher because we have not done one in awhile," Schultz said. "I think we're ready for any mission the MEU throws at us."
Although they have been together for the past year, this small unit has bonded into a family.
"I didn't know most of these guys a year ago, and now I know most of them better than some of my own family members," said Cpl. Clinton H. Fields, 22, an assistant team leader with Trailer Platoon, who is a native of Duluth, Ga. "With the training that we've received, I think that we're ready to jump into battle. I've been training for the past three and a half years and then some to prepare for what I might get into."
The last time the MSPF force conducted a VBSS was during their workup schedule to become special operations qualified.
This was good training because it allowed the MSPF force to carry out a VBSS while on deployment, according to Staff Sgt. Bernard Dogan, 39, the platoon sergeant for Trailer Platoon who is a native of Chicago.
"I like how we're able to get some training before we hit the Area Of Operations," he added. "I have no doubt we would complete the mission during a VBSS - the boys are ready."