15th MEU News
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Lance Cpl. Dominic V. Morales, amphibious assault vehicle crewman, 1st Platoon, Alpha Co., 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion, conducts a security halt during an eight-and-a-half mile patrol as a part of the weeklong at-sea portion of Exercise Iron Fist 2012, on San Clemente Island, Calif., Feb. 10. The Marines of 1st platoon moved from the USS Peleliu to the island in CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters. Third AABN acted as the ground combat element for the exercise. Exercise Iron Fist 2012 is a bilateral training exercise that gave the 15th MEU a chance to demonstrate its amphibious capabilities to the Japanese. Morales, 21, is a native of Lodi, N.J.

Photo by Cpl. John Robbart III

Helo assault force brings U.S. and Japanese forces together

15 Feb 2012 | Cpl. John Robbart III

Ship-to-shore operations are one of the many focuses of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Feb. 10-13, Marines with Alpha Company, 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion, and soldiers with the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force rehearsed the tasks of an infantry battalion during an at-sea period, the final event of Exercise Iron Fist 2012.

The evolution involved a total of 66 personnel flying from the USS Peleliu to San Clemente Island in two CH-53E helicopters, and then conducting an eight-and-a-half mile patrol down the main supply route. Alpha Co’s 1st Platoon paired up with a platoon of soldiers from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force to clear the area of simulated enemy forces.

“I’ve been training with third platoon from the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force,” said 2nd Lt. Jeff D. Illies Jr., platoon commander, 1st Platoon, Alpha Co., 3rd AABN. “We conducted dry runs and coordination on ship for this helo assault force operation,” added the 27-year-old native of Muskego, Wis.

The patrol began on the VC-3 airfield on San Clemente Island and was secured by a Japanese Ranger platoon that swam to shore after jumping from helicopters into the ocean (referred to as helo casting) the night prior.

Once the Rangers met with the AABN Marines, they began their patrol to the shore bombardment area to clear it of simulated ambush positions taken by role players from Alpha Co.’s 2nd Platoon acting as aggressors for the exercise.

“The Japanese also assisted with an intelligence platoon that provided information regarding the different ambush positions,” said Illies.

This particular exercise provided the Marines an opportunity to understand how Japan’s military operates.

“This gives them an appreciation for the JGSDF,” said Illies. “They are a very capable military force, and they exceeded the expectations we had set for them. Their discipline and dedication are exemplary.”

“This was a great experience because even though we may not be infantry by trade, every Marine is a rifleman,” said Sgt. Ross M. Lacourt, squad leader, 1st Platoon, Alpha Co., 3rd AABN. “I hope my Marines gained more appreciation for their jobs. Additionally, we were able to hone the infantry skills that every Marine is taught,” added the 26-year-old native of Marinettte, Wis., as AAV crewmen typically conduct more patrols from their vehicles than by foot.

The 3rd AABN Marines were reminded that every Marine is a rifleman first, regardless of military occupational specialty.

“I loved [conducting this patrol], this is what I signed up for,” said Lance Cpl. Geo Kakkar, amphibious assault vehicle crewman, 1st Platoon, Alpha Co., 3rd AABN. “Overcoming the mental barrier of the length of the patrol was tough, but it felt good to finish it.”

In addition to honing skills, Exercise Iron Fist 2012 was also a learning experience for the entire Marine Air Ground Task Force.

“Iron Fist has shown how the Marine Corps can adapt to unforeseen circumstances,” said Illies. “It’s truly impressive.”

The 15th MEU is currently training for a deployment scheduled for this summer.


15th Marine Expeditionary Unit