ABOARD USS BONHOMME RICHARD -- With more than three months of workups under their belts, elements of MEU Service Support Group 15 and Battalion Landing Team 1/1 recently conducted a Humanitarian Assistance Operation from the same ships they will soon take halfway around the world.
Their mission, similar to HAOs they’ve conducted previously, was to provide medical, dental, food, water and temporary shelter for about 70 “Iraqi” citizens. Sailors from the Field Medical Service School acted as role players who were in need of food and water after being forced from their homes by conflict in the area.
“The focus [of this exercise] has been on the procedures of getting to the site,” according to 1stLt. Bryan Gesparro, 25, assistant HAO commander and native of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “So far, it’s going well.”
The operation began with the movement of equipment and personnel from the ships to a Beach Landing Site on Camp Pendleton’s Red Beach. From there, the convoys were organized for movement to the HAO Site.
At the BLS, engineers with the HAO force setup a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit to provide clean water for the Iraqi personnel. The ROWPU can purify nearly any water source, including sea water, into clean drinking water at the rate of 600 gallons per hour.
The first convoy contained a small security element and initial Humanitarian Assistance Support Element or HASE, designed to establish security at the HA site and begin providing a limited amount of humanitarian aid. Meanwhile at the BLS, Marines and Sailors continued organizing the second convoy, which contained the bulk of the HAO force.
“The embark piece has definitely earned its respect,” said Gesparro about the complications of moving such a large group of personnel and equipment from the ships to a HAO site on land. MSSG-15 and BLT 1/1 used Landing Craft Air Cushioned hovercraft to move the equipment and personnel. The LCAC can carry thousands of pounds of equipment and personnel at high speeds to many different types of beaches around the world.
To speed up the efficiency of the operation, much of the gear was pre-boated or staged on the LCACs in port for the anticipated HAO, according to Gesparro. The pre-boating sped up the transport of equipment and the overall mission.
Equally important to the humanitarian actions of this mission was the security provided by Weapons Company 1/1 and MSSG-15’s organic Military Police Detachment.
The mission of the security Marines was to provide refuge for about 70 personnel being harassed and robbed by local militias. The platoon of Marines set up check points on the major roadway near the HAO site in addition to reinforcing area security and sending out roving patrols to prevent any insurgency.
“A lot of this training relates to anywhere we’ll go,” according to SSgt. Howard Tait, 31, 81mm mortar platoon sergeant and native of Victorville, Calif. Since the start of the Global War on Terrorism, Marines in supporting arms roles like mortarmen and artilleryman have assumed a second roles as basic infantrymen for security and stabilization operations and HAOs.
Also supporting the security role was a Combined Anti-Armor Team or CAAT of Weapons Company. The CAAT Platoon contains heavy machine guns, grenade launchers and anti-armor missiles mounted on hardened vehicles.
“We’re ready to do any sort of mission,” Tait said of his platoon’s abilities. “[My Marines] are a smarter breed than decades ago.”
Because of instability in the region, MSSG-15 also brought their mass casualty and non-lethal weapons teams ashore to prepare for those missions if needed. The mass casualty team is trained to conduct the initial trauma treatment, triage and medical evacuation of multiple causalities. The non-lethal weapons team is trained to control and prevent the aggressive actions of hostile crowds without the use of deadly force.
For this exercise, MSSG-15 worked a mass causality drill into the problem by dressing about 10 Marines in moulage or fake wounds to be treated and medically evacuated to the ship for treatment. Using realistic rubber coverings dressed in fake blood, Marines sported injuires ranging from 3rd degree burns to compound fractures and massive arterial bleeding.
The wounded Marines were placed in a field where the mass causality force had to conduct first aid and a hasty assessment of their wounds for assigning priority of care. A medevac aircraft was called immediately, and the wounded were staged for transport back to the ship. Once aboard the Bonhomme Richard, the Marines were treated and stabilized in the ship’s emergency room.
This exercise was just one of multiple missions performed during the 15th MEU’s first 10-day at sea period designed to enhance the unit’s ability to project combat power from amphibious ships. The 15th MEU is scheduled to deploy later this year for a six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf region.