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Recon Marines, sister services train in Djibouti

27 Aug 2015 | 1st Lt. Allison Burgos 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

“That’s an affirm, you are cleared to drop”, says radio operator U.S. Marine Sgt. Calvin Wiese as four parachutes flutter out of a UH-1Y Venom overhead.

Attached to those parachutes are Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Force Reconnaissance Detachment. Swift, silent, and deadly, the Marines of the Force Recon Det sharpen their skills through realistic training every chance they get.

The Force Recon Det has been ashore on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti sustaining their parachute and diving skills both independently and alongside U.S. Air Force pararescuemen and U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal teams.

The first day of training consisted of free-fall jumps out of a UH-1Y Venom from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 (Reinforced), the 15th MEU’s aviation combat element. Subsequent days saw the Marines work with Air Force pararescuemen aboard CV-22s.

“Utilizing the MEU’s UH-1s and Air Force CV-22s allows the platoon’s free-fall team to sustain its free-fall qualification and improve tactics, techniques and procedures while increasing interoperability with internal and external aviation assets,” said Capt. John Garlasco, a platoon commander with the 15th MEU’s Force Recon Detachment.

The Force Recon Detachment then integrated with the U.S. Air Force pararescuemen, also known as “PJs”, to share their knowledge and experience to help each other get better. Some of the specialists with the PJs were able to give classes to the Marines of the Force Recon Detachment about gear capabilities, packing, medical support, and standard operating procedures.

“Having the chance to jump alongside the PJs from the 303rd Rescue Squadron was a great opportunity to share tactics, techniques and procedures, build relationships, and increase [special operations forces] interoperability between our two units,” Garlasco added.

The Marines continued building relationships and sharing expertise by diving with sailors from Task Force 68.3, sharing techniques and experiences that improved both individual skills and brought the two units closer together.

“Navy EOD Divers are the premier experts on anti-terrorism force protection diving in contested waters, and in my limited experience, the most professional [self-contained underwater breathing apparatus] divers in the Department of Defense,” said Capt. Mark Bertolone, the executive officer of the 15th MEU’s Force Recon Detachment.

Diving with Navy EOD on ship hulls and along piers was excellent training to best prepare the 15th MEU Force Recon Detachment to execute SCUBA search and recovery dives in future operations.  

“Our mission set is very different from the Marines’, but they still have good practices that we could learn from, and I think we have good practices that they could learn from as well. By integrating, we are able to learn from each other and develop better tactics, techniques and procedures for the future,” said Lt. Jg. David Raba, an EOD platoon commander with Task Force 68.3.

While the Force Recon community primarily uses diving as a means of insertion, extraction, and reconnaissance of beaches, the tools that make EOD divers proficient and able to locate ordnance underwater could also help the Marines better carry out their mission.

“As the only resident unit of the MEU/ARG with divers, the Force Reconnaissance Detachment combatant divers must be prepared to conduct search and recovery SCUBA dives in support of both U.S. naval warships and the landing force,” Bertolone said.

Although their missions differ, Raba described the benefits of working and training together with the Force Recon community.

Raba explained that from his point of view “as a platoon commander, the way I look at it is that I only have EOD divers. Each one of those divers only has a certain amount of bottom time. So if I could get other divers, Navy or Marines, up to speed to help me accomplish my mission and vice versa, then that is a valuable force multiplier on the battlefield.”

After this training with EOD and the PJs, Bertolone is sure that the 15th MEU Force Recon Detachment has built a solid working relationship with the special operations forces in the area, and can more confidently support complex jumping and diving missions in support of maintaining maritime security in the 5th Fleet area of operations.

15th Marine Expeditionary Unit