BARKING SANDS, HI (NNS) -- On the morning of July 15, the beaches of the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) at Barking Sands were under assault.
Invading forces hit the beaches in Marine Corps assault amphibian vehicles (AAVs) and Navy landing craft air cushioned (LCACs) - loaded with High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) and Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs).
Luckily, the attack by friendly U.S. forces was the amphibious portion of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2002 exercise.
RIMPAC 2002 is a multinational training evolution that includes military forces from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Chile, the Republic of Korea, Peru, Japan and the United States. The training enhances the amphibious combat readiness of international and U.S. mainland and Hawaii-based military forces.
The amphibious assault showcased elements of a capable Navy-Marine Corps team, specifically - the abilities of the Tarawa Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) and the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF).
The first Marines to hit the shore were transported in the AAVs - tracked landing vehicles that deployed from ships off the coast, plowed through the waves and surf, and drove up on the beach. The 28-ton, all-terrain vehicles are capable of carrying up to 21 fully armed combat-ready troops in water and over land.
The next crafts to come ashore were the LCACs. These immense vessels are capable of high-speed over water, and over the beach transits with up to 60 tons of cargo. In this case, the LCACs were fully loaded with HMMWVs (or Humvees) and LAVs. The eight-wheeled LAVs, which have an amphibious capability all their own, are a formidable platform capable of reaching speeds in excess of 60 mph on land.
Observers closely watching all the activities associated with the beach assault weren't all wearing uniforms. Capt. Don Wilson, the commanding officer of PMRF, invited a number of key community leaders to watch the amphibious assault, and to get a better idea of the vital role that PMRF plays in our nation's defense.
Garden isle visitors included Hawaii State Senator Jonathan Chun; Hawaii State Representatives Bertha Kawakami, Ezra Kanoho, and Hermina Morita; Kauai County Councilmen Brian Baptiste and Gary Hoosier; Ron Sakoda, Sen. Inouye's Kauai representative; Rhoda Libre of the Kauai Watershed Council, Pam Parker of the Kauai Economic Development Board; Navy League President Dr. Jack Layton and his wife Bette; and Marine Corps League representatives Betty and Charles Kingsbury.
Additionally, several key community leaders from Oahu traveled to Kauai to watch the exercise and tour PMRF. Guests from Oahu included Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Moon; State Senator Cal Kawamoto, Retired Maj. Gen. Alexis Lum - Senator Inouye's military liaison; Alan Furuno - military liaison for Congressman Neil Abercrombie; Dave Carey - President and CEO of Outrigger Hotels; Tom Smyth - State of Hawaii Dept. of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; and Carolyn Walsh - Medical Nurse Management, Arcadia Homes.
When all of the sand and dust settled from the roar of the LCACs, there seemed to be a consensus of opinion that the invitation to observe this critical training operation was an honor, and the guests further agreed that the exercise was a critical element in training for this country's national defense.
Bertha Kawakami, the West Kauai legislator for the State House of Representatives (14th District), said she was "thrilled to be watching an operation of this magnitude for the first time." Kawakami, a lifelong Westside resident and popular political leader who has served in the House of Representatives since 1987, commented on the fact that PMRF is an ideal location because of its isolation.
"It is my hope to keep the (Barking Sands) area surrounding PMRF free from encroachment for these exercises and other tests, especially in these times of new warfare," Kawakami said. "Working in the legislature, I see how important this is in relationship to the this new era of terrorism, for both our protection locally and nationally, as well as for purposes of international safety."
Hawaii State Representative Hermina Morita (12th District) admitted that she had no idea what to expect when she received the call to come visit PMRF for the RIMPAC exercises.
"You always hear about PMRF but have no idea what these operations entail," said Morita. "It is clear that the base is important to national security.
It looks so easy on television, but we just don't realize the amount of preparation and training that our troops must undergo to maintain freedom." Morita added that while she would like to endorse peace, this isn't always a reality.
"We must do what needs to be done to defend our nation," she said. "The transition to technology (as an economic base for) Kauai also benefits civilians and brings professional jobs to the island."
Morita's brother is a retired Air Force electronic warfare specialist, and her nephew is serving with the U.S. Marines.
When the amphibious assault concluded, Capt. Wilson and members of his staff escorted the guests to the Range Operations Center for an overview briefing on the mission of the Pacific Missile Range Facility. At the conclusion of the briefing, the group was taken on a windshield tour of PMRF, and rounded out their visit with a lunch with the commanding officer.
The guests also commented on the fact that they recognize the need for missile testing, improved technological capabilities in warfare, and the reality that having the defensive edge - all critical aspects of national security - have taken on greater meaning and urgency since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. These facts were not lost on Kauai County Councilman Gary Hoosier.
"Being at PMRF today really makes me appreciate the degree of sophistication our armed services possess and the importance of training troops for readiness," Hoosier noted.
As an elected official, Hoosier said that representing Kauai, where PMRF is a leading commercial employer and business enterprise that is critical to the nation's defense, gives him "a real sense of pride."
"We live in a different world today," Hoosier said during an interview at Major's Bay where amphibious landing craft were storming the beach in the background. "In light of the world situation, and as an important part of our community, I'll do whatever I can to support the mission of PMRF."
County councilman Brian Baptiste, agreed with Hoosier.
"PMRF is an integral part of the community and it is very important to Kauai's West Side," said Baptiste. "As a main cog in (the wheel of) the Westside economy, there is no question of the value PMRF has to our community, our island, and our nation as a whole."
Rhoda Libre, representing the Kauai Watershed Council, took the time to praise PMRF, and the base's new leadership.
"PMRF is excellent in the technical realm, doing things like testing these unmanned aerial vehicles," Libre said, indicating that PMRF's role in this cutting edge technology is a major advancement toward peacekeeping efforts.
"Homeland security needs community participation. Right now we are all walking on rice paper. We must be prepared for future acts of terrorism and copy cat scenarios."
Libre also spoke positively about PMRF's new leadership under Commanding Officer (CO), Capt. Don Wilson. "It is apparent that with the new CO, we - the community and community representatives - can work together. PMRF's new leadership is listening to the people more than ever before. In the past local people felt that they weren't being heard, but the new CO is innovative in his strategy of working with the community," said Libre.
Libre added that she was "very honored and privileged to have been invited to PMRF to observe the RIMPAC 2002 amphibious assault, tour the facility, and receive briefings from PMRF leadership.
Capt. Wilson summed up his impressions of the day by saying, "it is always a privilege to have our bosses around for such an impressive event. Each and every American taxpayer is our boss, and the men and women in uniform don't take our responsibilities lightly. I'm glad we had the opportunity to showcase the capabilities of our Sailors and Marines during the amphibious assault, and then to highlight the tremendous capabilities of PMRF and all the wonderful people who work here."
For more information about RIMPAC 2002, go to www.cpf.navy.mil/RIMPAC2002. For more Navy Region Hawaii news, go to www.news.navy.mil/local/cnrh.