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Navy, Marines Team Up At Camp Pendleton For Disaster Response Training

Reported by Nicholas Mcvicker

The Navy and Marines have teamed up at Camp Pendleton, on land and out at sea, for global crisis training. They're testing a new ship that could be a game-changer the next time troops are called for humanitarian assistance.

Nearly 2,000 Marines, sailors and civilians from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Expeditionary Strike Group 3 have joined together at Camp Pendleton to prepare for the next disaster.

“So when game day gets here, and it will get here, we can get out there and when we get in the red zone,” said Navy Rear Adm. Frank Ponds, commander of Strike Group 3.

“It becomes really tough, but we don’t panic because we practiced it and we rehearsed it,” Ponds said.

The annual eight-day ship-to-shore training, called Exercise Pacific Horizon, ends Tuesday. It prepares troops for responding to crises across the globe, like hurricanes or tsunamis.

“But let me bring it home,” Ponds said. “The brush fires that reoccur up and down this coast, the earthquakes that we just experienced in Napa Valley about a month ago — these types of missions.”

During this year’s mock drill, Marines and sailors are responding to the fictitious country of “Acadia,” home to 200,000 residents.

“You are standing on the grounds of Acadia,” Ponds announced from the shore of Camp Pendleton. “Acadia was hit by a series of storms and bad weather conditions, and they asked our nation, the United States, to support them in their time of need. “

In response, Marines and sailors transported vehicles and equipment from two prepositioned ships located 16 nautical miles offshore and delivered the supplies to the beaches of “Acadia.”

Ponds said the exercise reinforces the partnership between the Navy and Marines and combines their unique capabilities.

“This gives them the opportunity to come forward and say, ‘I have an idea. Let’s try this.’ And we take that idea and we inject it into this process and we see if it works,” he said.

New for this year’s exercise is one of the ships: the USNS Montford Point, named in honor of the 20,000 African-American Marine Corps recruits who trained at Montford Point Camp in North Carolina from 1942 to 1949.

Built by NASSCO in San Diego, the massive 800-foot-long mobile landing platform acts as a pier in the ocean. It can submerse part of its platform to be used as a docking and launching station for amphibious vehicles.

The Mumford’s ability to maneuver alongside military cargo ships and connect at sea via a loading ramp reduces the military's dependence on foreign ports and expedites ship-to-shore cargo transfers without docking.

During the exercise, troops have moved vehicles and freight down the ramp and onto three amphibious vehicles, called Landing Craft Air Cushions — or LCACS.

"We’re doing about 10 trips a day with the LCACS,” said Marine Col. Bruce Pitman, who's overseeing 500 service members for the landward portion of the exercise.

“We receive the gear here, make sure it’s operational. We push it inland to the units to use,” Pitman explained.

Within a few days of the exercise, the Marines had already unloaded tons of emergency supplies and constructed a mini-city of small modular buildings for housing and humanitarian assistance.

Pitman said the Montford Point has reached expectations.

“It’s much quicker than the old system, which is terrific for the Marines,” Pitman said. “We get the gear to the beach much quicker and get it to the units much quicker. “

If the Montford Point passes the test, the ship will soon be prepositioned somewhere out in the ocean, just like the military cargo ships, ready to respond when called upon.

“Part of the art and science to respond very quickly and effectively to a crisis is to be forward postured, forward deployed and provide presence well in advance,” said Joaquin Malavet, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, a crisis response force tasked with conducting self-sustained combat and humanitarian operations.

“Our ability to move forces, both Navy and Marine Corps, into areas that we anticipate a crisis developing is key to our operational and strategic design,” Malavet said.

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