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Marine-Navy Integration Continues as Marines Return From USNS Burlington Deployment

25 January 2021

From 1st Lt. Heather Chairez

A team of U.S. Marines completed a three-month deployment at sea serving as an embarked security team aboard the Spearhead-class USNS Burlington (T-EPF 10) and returned to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, December 28.

The ten-Marine team, who were selected from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Southern Command for this mission, were responsible for providing force protection during the noncombatant vessel’s deployment to the U.S. Fourth Fleet area of responsibility.

“The USNS Burlington’s mission was to provide at-sea maintenance to littoral combat ships that were in the area of responsibility as a proof of concept for the future of forward deployed littoral combat ships,” said Maj. Drew Miller, the officer in charge of the embarked security team. “Our mission was to provide 360-degree waterside protection in both foreign ports and while under way in international waters.”

This deployment supports the Marine Corps Commandant’s Planning Guidance as Marines return to the seas and focus on naval integration. The document calls for a “need to re-focus on how we [the Marine Corps] will fulfill our mandate to support the Fleet.” Both the Navy and Marine Corps seek to reestablish a more integrated approach to operations in the maritime domain, and the deployment directly supported the Navy’s sea control mission.

Continued integration efforts are designed to support leaders in the development of naval operational concepts that will guide how the joint force conducts expeditionary operations in the future, according to the Commandant’s Planning Guidance.

The Burlington is a 338-foot-long aluminum catamaran designed for rapid intra-theater transport of troops and military equipment. It can transport approximately 300 people and 600 tons of military equipment and supplies in support of a variety of specialized missions, such as supporting littoral combat ships with maintenance and sustainment services. Because the Burlington is a naval auxiliary vessel, operated entirely by civil service mariners, the ship requires the integration of an embarked security team.

"Naval integration speaks to our roots as Marines and allows us to demonstrate our combined capabilities to protect our nation.” Capt. Daniel Kent, the embarked security team tactical supervisor

The embarked security team’s mission, historically a function of Marines aboard ship, has been accomplished by Sailors as the Marine Corps shifted its focus to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the Marine Corps re-focuses back to supporting the naval fleet, this mission fills the critical role to enhance force protection while underway and supports the integration of the Navy and Marine Corps.

“The opportunity to serve on a ship puts us at the forward edge of optimizing our Navy and Marine Corps relationship,” said Col. David Emmel, the operations officer for MARFORSOUTH. “Providing security for a ship that enables sustainment for a warfighting ship supports our naval campaign objectives for U.S. Southern Command. This is one of the ways we enhance security in the region, support our partners, and reinforce naval integration.”

The National Defense Strategy, published in 2018, acknowledges the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition from revisionist powers that pose a legitimate threat to the disposition of maritime forces, and U.S. Southern Command is tracking this threat in the Latin American and Caribbean regions. Therefore, U.S. and partner nation naval services, to include their respective marine corps, continue to bolster their plans and missions to provide assured access for combined partner nation forces, and protect the enduring partnership in the region.

Loading Gear Photo by Lance Cpl. Jose Gonzalez

“I was most excited to work with the Navy, especially to see the way they trained and operated,” said Capt. Daniel Kent, the tactical supervisor of the embarked security team. “It was awesome being able to expand our knowledge and experience to something new. Teamwork between the Navy and Marine Corps is important. Naval integration speaks to our roots as Marines and allows us to demonstrate our combined capabilities to protect our nation.”

The team of Marines originally served with the SPMAGTF-SC earlier in 2020, which is a crisis response force who provide support to partner nations in the event of an emergency or natural disaster. While on standby to respond with partners in the region, SPMAGTF-SC participated in several training events and missions focused on the enduring partnership within the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to include COVID-19 assistance missions, subject matter expert exchanges, and participation in Exercise UNITAS LXI, the longest-running multinational maritime exercise in the world.

Additionally, the task force sought the opportunity to board a ship heading into the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility, not only to provide security, but to learn how the Marine Corps can better integrate with the Navy, specifically on non-standard platforms such as the Burlington.

This iteration of the task force marks the end of the sixth consecutive year the Marines and Sailors formed SPMAGTF-SC to serve as the crisis response force assigned to U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South. However, the Marine Corps will continue to provide forces into the U.S. Southern Command region for exercises, subject matter expert exchanges and key leader engagements, while continuing to achieve naval integration objectives and advance naval operational concepts.

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