USS PELELIU --
The Marine Corps, like many military services, has its own language and way of speaking. However, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit has one member whose accent is a little more unique than the rest.
Australian Army Maj. Benjamin Watson, the MEU’s assistant operations officer and the executive officer of the unit’s Maritime Raid Force, is part of an exchange program enabling him to serve in a Marine Corps unit for two years. The intent of the exchange program is to help build maturity in Australia’s amphibious program by providing maritime operational planning experience to its officers.
Watson, 31, grew up in what he calls the “bush,” which is an Australian term for the country-side, just outside of Sydney, Australia. His family roots run deep in the Australian army, with many members having earned their grit serving in the Australian Army’s infantry units. For Watson, land-based operations come as easily as breathing, but with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, he is experiencing something foreign to him.
“It has been awesome being here at the 15th MEU,” said Watson. “It’s a unique experience and the CO and operations officer have treated me exactly the same as their Marine officers.”
As the XO of the MRF, Watson assists in planning and coordinates forces on the ground and links them back to the MEU. As the assistant operations officer, he oversees all current and future operations of the unit. According to Watson, this is the first time an Australian soldier has served with a MEU.
“During the work-ups, my responsibilities included building plans, coordinating the battle staff for the Rapid-Response Planning Process, and then supervising the plan as it came together,” said Watson. “It gave us an opportunity to learn and practice at the same time.”
One example of Watson in action was noticeable during the unit’s first theater security cooperation exercise, titled Exercise Crocodilo 2012. It involved all elements of the MEU working alongside soldiers from the Timor Leste Defense Force, as they enhanced each other’s mutual maritime capabilities and built solid professional relationships.
This wasn’t Watson’s first experience working with the Timorese. Before his two deployments to Afghanistan, he deployed to East Timor for four months with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment. That experience assisted him in making the bilateral training a success.
“Maj. Watson’s role at the command strongly influences how operations and training are conducted,” said Capt. Scott P. Bayer, target information officer, 15th MEU. “He has played a huge role in the various Djibouti sustainment training we’ve conducted as well as Crocodilo,” added the 27-year-old native of Bolivar, Miss.
Planning the operations for the 15th MEU gives Watson fulfillment, but said he believes meeting new people and networking with the other Marine Corps leaders is also very important.
“I’ve built friendships here,” he said. “On a personal level, I will keep them for the rest of my life. [But,] they aren’t just personal though.”
Watson mentioned he quite possibly could work with the Marine officers he’s met again as the Marine Corps begins to shifts its focus to the pacific.
“It’s always good to know the person on the other end of the line, whether it be calling in fires or requesting a re-supply.”
He believes the lessons he learned at the MEU will prove to be helpful when he returns to an Australian battalion.
“Having an intimate understanding of how the MEU works will ultimately help both the Marine Corps and the Australian Army,” he said, in reference to potential future operations.
When he returns to Australia, Watson will be responsible for influencing Australia’s amphibious doctrine, which will be based off what he has learned with the 15th MEU.
“At the moment, I am more of a Marine than a soldier,” said Watson with a smile.
Watson attributes his sense of feeling like a Marine to the strong camaraderie he has experienced on ship.
“Being on ship is a different experience for me,” he said. “The best part about the MEU is the camaraderie and the fact that we are a jack-of-all-trades,” which he has experienced first-hand as a key player in operations.
When asked what similarities he saw between the two services, Watson described something Marines know about their service when it is faced with a challenge.
“The Australian Army is renowned for getting the job done and doing it with the least amount of assets and resources,” he said. “Out of all of America’s branches of service, the Marine Corps mirrors that concept the best.”
While his days as a platoon commander are behind him, his leadership principles remain the same.
“The decisions [we as staff planners] make impact the troops on the ground,” he said. “I always say ‘Don’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.’”
His officers feel the same way.
“Maj. Watson is a down-to-earth leader who really looks out for his men,” said Bayer.
The 15th MEU is deployed as part of the Peleliu ARG as a U.S. Central Command theater reserve force, providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.