With the recent failure of Navy anti-pirate drones early this month, the US Marine Corps is taking a more traditional stance against the Somali pirates. This month the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (MEU) Maritime Raid Force began training at Camp Pendleton and Naval Base San Diego with Special Operations Training Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, to learn the skills needed to take back pirated ships by force.
The Maritime Raid Force (MRF) is a special operations force designed to carry out raids against maritime objectives including gas and oil platforms, ships and ports. “The MRF performs small scale precision raids as well as maritime interdiction operations in support of MEU operations,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason P. Fitzgerald, MRF staff non-commissioned officer in charge, Command Element, 15th MEU.
The MRF is composed of three elements, assault, security and headquarters. The assault element, those with boots on board ship, is made up of Marines and sailors from Force Reconnaissance Company of the 15th MEU. They are assisted by servicemembers from a Security Platoon, Marines from the Command Element and sailors from a Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company fill the headquarters element. Working together they make an impressive small scale strike anti-pirate force.
“The MRF is important because it provides the MEU with small scale strike capability and a force capable of performing unique mission sets,” said Fitzgerald.
The unique missions of MRF include counter-piracy operations like the Sept. 9, 2010 boarding and control of a vessel infested with armed pirates. The MRF successfully took control of the ship without any injuries to the ship’s crew or Marines. But, with this month’s training, the Corps hopes to improve their tactical advantage.
“This MRF will do a broader expanse of operations than the previous iterations,” said Capt. Mathew Lesnowicz, MRF commander, Command Element, 15th MEU. “We will focus on counter-piracy, but we will also be relied upon for precision raids on land.”
During the first week of training the MRF servicemembers learned the basic skills they would need for the coming months. The Marines trained at a rappel tower to become proficient in fast roping before sliding from the hellhole of a CH-46E Sea Knight the following week.
Marines and sailors also participated in the military’s Shallow Water Egress Trainer course. Similar to HUET Training in the offshore industry, the course develops servicemembers survival techniques in case of a helicopter crash in open water. The troops also became confident using caving ladders, a portable wire-ladder system, to board vessels from rigid-hulled inflatable boats.
Once the Marines and sailors became proficient in these required skills, they began conducting visit, board, search and seizure drills at Naval Base San Diego. In these drills, the MRF boarded vessels with caving ladders and cleared the ship’s key spaces including the bridge, radio room and engine room.
The unit conducted this training to prepare themselves for the next phase of their training, Realistic Urban Training, which will further enhance their skill sets as the unit’s special operations force
The 15th MEU is a Marine Air Ground Task Force comprised of approximately 2,300 Marines and sailors who are training for their deployment scheduled for this fall.