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Around The Fleet

Strength in Unity

Sailors and Marines and Alligator Dagger

The roar of LCACs approach the desert beaches of Djibouti, Africa. Moments later dozens of Marines and equipment exit and scramble over sand and rocks away from the beach.

Off the coast the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8) is busy. Almost in a choreographed dance, men and women hustle about the flight deck, fueling aircraft, removing chocks and chains as MV-22 Ospreys and CH-53 Super Stallions gear up for launch to carry Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the beach.

This isn't a battle, but it's keeping Sailors and Marines' skills sharp. This is Exercise Alligator Dagger.
"Exercise Alligator Dagger was an excellent opportunity to conduct a full-mission profile involving the entire Marine Air-Ground Task Force spread across all three ships of the ARG," said Col. Clay C. Tipton, 11th MEU commanding officer. "The ability to maneuver from the sea and place Marines on the enemy's doorstep in the middle of the night ready to break things is a valuable skill set."

Led by Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, the two-week exercise enabled the Marines and Sailors of the MKI ARG and 11th MEU to rehearse complex amphibious operations and conduct combat sustainment training to remain ready for crisis response and contingency operations throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
Marines and Sailors of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group/11th Marine Expeditionary Unit concluded Exercise Alligator Dagger with a nighttime helo-borne raid in Djibouti, Dec. 21, 2016.
Alligator Dagger exercise Photo Collage

Launching from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island, more than 100 Marines were flown inland via MV-22 Ospreys and CH-53 Super Stallions to conduct a raid on a simulated enemy communications node. Escorted by AH-1Z Cobras, UH-1Y Hueys, and AV-8B Harriers for close-air support, the raid force conducted the mission within a few hours under the cover of darkness.
"The training we executed during Alligator Dagger sharpened our skills and displayed the range of combat, sustainment and crisis-response capabilities the ARG-MEU team brings to the region," said Capt. Mike Crary, Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five. "In today's dynamic world, presence matters. The presence of U.S. Naval warships loaded with Marines demonstrates a strong commitment to regional security, and it confirms to our partners we are in it together."

During the exercise, the ARG/MEU conducted multiple visit, board, search and seizure missions; integrated ground-and-air fires; air strikes; defense of the amphibious task force; mechanized movements on live-fire ranges with tanks and amphibious assault and light armored vehicles; day and night artillery shoots; tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel; ground reconnaissance; combat marksmanship; convoy operations; quick reaction force and casualty evacuation rehearsals; an amphibious assault; and the culminating nighttime helo-borne raid.

Arriving in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations late Nov., the MKI ARG is comprised of Makin Island, the command ship for PHIBRON 5 and 11th MEU, amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset, and amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45).
Alligator Dagger exercise Photo Collage

The 11th MEU is a sea-based Marine Air-Ground Task Force comprised of a ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines; an aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163; a combat logistics element, Combat Logistics Battalion 11; and a command element with a commanding officer who leads the entire MEU.

While in the region, the Southern California-based Navy-Marine Corps team falls under CTF 51/5, and will help ensure the free flow of commerce, provide crisis response and support ongoing missions in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.