Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Essex ARG Conducts Simulated Amphibious Assault

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Greg Johnson, USS Essex (LHD 2) Public Affairs

UTAPAO, Thailand (NNS) -- Sailors from the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ESX ARG) worked with Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), as well as Sailors and Marines from the Kingdom of Thailand and the Republic of Korea (ROK), as dozens of landing crafts and hundreds of Marines from all three nations hit Hat Klod Beach in Utapao, Thailand, during a simulated amphibious assault Feb. 4.

The simulated amphibious assault was part of exercise Cobra Gold 2010 (CG 10).

"It was a great opportunity to work with a complex scenario," said Capt. Donald Schmieley, commander, Amphibious Squadron 11. "It took a lot of understanding of how each other operates to pull it off, but I would say we very successfully demonstrated our ability to work with partner nations."

AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft and AZ-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters paved the way for the beach landing with simulated air strikes. Shortly after, 24 U.S., Thai and Korean amphibious assault vehicles landed on the beach in unison, quickly deploying a large multinational Marine force, which rushed forward to secure landing zones for 31st MEU troop transport helicopters. Meanwhile, a UH-1N Huey command and control helicopter monitored everything from the air, as a landing craft, air cushion vehicle arrived with support equipment.

The combined assault required excellent planning and coordination between participating nations, said Lt. Col. Stewart Lockhart, 31st MEU executive officer.

"It's pretty significant. You have to have personnel that have a professional outlook and a similar philosophy when it comes to training and safety, find a common ground and pull your efforts together," said Lockhart. "Tactically, not only does everyone need to understand the timeline, but they need to validate it with command and control in order to control what is happening during the assault."

A full-scale, amphibious assault requires cooperation at all levels of the chain of command, including those responsible for executing the plan. Long before Marines charged up the beach, Sailors were at work on the flight deck and in the well deck of USS Essex (LHD 2), where many of the exercise's vehicles and personnel originated.

"We wanted to make sure to put forth our best effort," said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) (AW/SW) Chris Brunson, who helped supervise flight deck operations during the assault. "It can be difficult when you have different packages of aircraft taking off at different times. For us, the biggest challenge is making sure the right aircraft are taking off at the right time to accomplish their mission."

In the well deck, Sailors of Essex's deck department worked to launch and recover landing craft utility vehicles loaded with reconnaissance Marines and combat rubber raiding crafts. Despite the high tempo of the exercise, at least one of those Sailors found it to be a valuable learning experience.

"The more practice we do, the better we get. It becomes muscle memory through repetition," said Seaman Rudy Segura, of Jacksonville, Fla., who was participating in his first exercise since reporting to Essex last month. "It's also pretty rewarding to know that you're taking part in something like this."

After leaving the well deck, the assault crafts headed for the beach, where the beach masters of Beach Master Unit 1 (BMU-1), Detachment Western Pacific, worked to clear and control the craft landing zones, conduct surface observations and provide support for vehicles and equipment.

"Experiments show that without designated experts for beach offloads, efficiency drops," said Electronics Technician 1st Class (SW) Sean Donovan, a beach master with BMU-1. "Our specialized training allows us to work quickly and effectively to keep things running as smooth as possible. Today, everything went great and everyone did what they needed to do."

After the assault, Marines of all three countries emerged from the trees, many covered in dirt and debris and dripping with sweat after a long day in the sweltering, 90-degree heat. Their faces revealed both their exhaustion and their satisfaction.

"I think everything went very well," said Lance Cpl. Jang Park, an ROK Marine from Seoul. "It's good training to work with the American Marines, and I hope to have the chance to do it again."

Essex, commanded by Capt. Troy Hart, is part of the forward deployed ESX ARG and is participating in CG 10, a co-sponsored U.S.-Thailand multinational exercise.