Rapid Power Projection Forces: The French Foreign Legion and the USMC Exercise in France

2013-11-18 by Murielle Delaporte

It has been noted by some observers that the Foreign Legion and the USMC have more in common than many allied forces.

This was demonstrated recently in an exercise in France where the Ospreys of the SP-MAGTF (from Spain) landed in France and exercised with the Foreign Legion near one of their bases in the South of France.  1

The assault was a success, mainly due to the striking similarities between the two military organizations. 

Marine Capt. Jackson Smith, the executive officer of Alpha Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, SP-MAGTF Crisis Response, was asked whether he would be comfortable in a future combat situation with a foreign force. His answer came quickly: 

“If it was with these guys — I’d go anywhere with these guys,” he said. 

Smith’s statement captured the sentiment of most of the infantry Marines involved in the exercise. But SP-MAGTF Crisis Response didn’t only bring its infantry to France. They also brought an MV-22B Osprey — the first to ever operate tactically in an exercise on French soil. 

“It was a great week — the U.S. has a long and valued history with France and we hope we can get together with them for follow on training,” said Capt. Kyle Stuart, an MV-22B Osprey pilot with Marine Medium Tilitrotor Squadron 162, SP-MAGTF Crisis Response.

A Unique Force

Legionnaires and U.S. Marines have always had a mutual respect for one another and have very similar combat experience.

They have been training for several years including in Djibouti, but the cooperation between the two forces has reached a new milestone with the recent exercise between the 6th BLB (Light Armored Brigade) and SP-MAGTF CR.

After a preparatory period in March 2013, the Marines returned from 28 October to 1 November at Camp des Garrigues near Nimes to participate in bilateral maneuvers and to share the respective expertise of the two units composed of 100 Legionnaires and 60 Marines in shooting (M-16 on the US side ;  FAMAS on the French side) and exercising for urban warfare.

MV-22s having landed in Senegal, November 2013. Credit: USMC

MV-22s having landed in Senegal, November 2013. Credit: USMC 

The exercise featured support for the security of an embassy, and they did so with helicopter raids and an assault in an urban environment, which featured the role of the MV22 Osprey with support from the Tiger and Gazelle.  Combining the speed and range of the Osprey with the firepower and maneuverability of the Tiger would be a lethal combination indeed and will offer new ways to think about the two forces addressing common threats.

As Major Franck Rhobotham, VMM-354 RBE noted with regard to the SP-MAGTF:

As long as I’ve got a C-130 that’s willing to go with me and has something to give me, it’s human limited now. How many hours can I fly this airplane before I’m too fatigued? 

The SP-MAGTF consists of 6 Ospreys and 3 C-130s and self deployed across the Atlantic to Spain.

The SP-MAGTF: A Self-Sustained Force

Operating under the authority of AFRICOM (or in some cases EUCOM) and based in Spain at Moron de la Frontera, the SP-MAGTF was set up in record time, i.e. eight months from concept to execution.

“We can rapidly deploy to support missions, such as embassy reinforcement, tactical recovery of aircraft, and personnel and non-combatant evacuation operation”, explained Brigadier General James O’Meara, commander, U.S. Marine Forces Europe, and deputy commander, U.S. Marine Forces Africa, who highlighted that a SP-MAGTF is highly mobile, carries its on logistics support and is cost effective.

The SP-MAGTF meets the need to respond rapidly to a developing situation either proactively or reactively with a small force with a small footprint and has its own organic air, which means that it has operational reach as well.”  2

The Mali experience is clearly in the minds of both the Legionnaires and the Marines –  the Marines from SP-MAGTF are involved in the training programs for African forces in this area – and the challenge of geographical reach within Africa is very much vivid.

They also have similar types of threat scenarios against American and French embassies (as in Benghazi Libya in September 2013 and Tripoli in April 2013.

The capability being tested in the exercise is particularly suitable – operating together or separately – and particularly appropriate for the challenges ahead. 

Credit: Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response:10/30/13

  • In the first photo, a Legionnaire from the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of France’s 6th Light Armored Brigade provides landing zone security for an MV-22B Osprey with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Oct. 30, 2013, at Camp des Garrigues, France.
  • In the second photo, Legionnaires from the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of France’s 6th Light Armored Brigade embark an MV-22B Osprey with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Oct. 30, 2013, at Camp des Garrigues, France.
  • In the third photo, Legionnaires from the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of France’s 6th Light Armored Brigade fly inside an MV-22B Osprey with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Oct. 30, 2013, at Camp des Garrigues, France.
  • In the fourth photo, Legionnaires from the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of France’s 6th Light Armored Brigade set up landing zone security for an MV-22B Osprey with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Oct. 30, 2013, at Camp des Garrigues, France.
  • In the final photo, Legionnaires from the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of France’s 6th Light Armored Brigade prepare weapons and gear inside an MV-22B Osprey with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Oct. 30, 2013, at Camp des Garrigues, France.

 Credit: Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response:10/29/13

  • In the first photo, Adjudant-Chef Alex Rowe, the range officer-in-charge for the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of the 6th Light Armored Brigade, discusses the conduct of a day of live-fire training between Legionnaires and U.S. Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Oct. 29, 2013, near Camp des Garrigues, France.
  • In the second photo, a French Legionnaire with the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of the 6th Light Armored Brigade sights through an American M4 carbine while a U.S. Marine, background, with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response handles the Legionnaire’s weapon Oct. 29, 2013, near Camp des Garrigues, France.
  • In the third photo, Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response show French Legionnaires from the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of the 6th Light Armored Brigade how to properly fire M4 carbines and M16A4 service rifles Oct. 29, 2013, near Camp des Garrigues, France
  • In the fourth photo, Pfc. Colt Brink (left), a native of Tampa, Fla., and rifleman with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, sights through a French-made Fusil d’Assaut de la Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne, or FAMAS, assault rifle during a discussion with a French Legionnaire from the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of the 6th Light Armored Brigade Oct. 29, 2013, near Camp des Garrigues, France.
  • In the fifth photo, Lance Cpl. Kyle Guth, a native of Oil City, Pa., and team leader with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, fires an M2 .50 caliber heavy machine while French Legionnaires with the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of the 6th Light Armored Brigade spot his rounds Oct. 29, 2013, near Camp des Garrigues, France.
  • In the sixth photo, a U.S. Marine, left, with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response spots rounds for a French Legionnaire with the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of the 6th Light Armored Brigade Oct. 29, 2013, near Camp des Garrigues, France
  • In the final photo, Pfc. Alan Careaga, a native of Raleigh, N.C., and rifleman with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response, fires an M240B medium machine gun atop an Internally Transportable Vehicle Oct. 29, 2013, near Camp des Garrigues, France, during a live-fire bilateral training exercise with Legionnaires from the 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment of France’s 6th Light Armored Brigade.

A version of this article appeared in the latest issue of Soutien, Logistique Défense of which Murielle Delaporte is the editor.

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SP MAGTF SLD French Version

Notes:

  1. The 6th 6e Brigade Légère Blindée or Light Armored Brigade is composed of the 2nd REI from Nîmes, of the 2nd RIMa (Régiment d’infanterie de marine) from Fréjus, the 1er REC (Régiment étranger de cavalerie)  d’Orange and the 3e RAMA (régiment d’artillerie de marine) from Canjuers.

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