Visiting SP-MAGTF in Spain: A Mission Rehearsal Drill for Reinforcing an Embassy

2014-02-01 Interviews Conducted by Murielle Delaporte

Second Line of Defense’s Murielle Delaporte had the opportunity to visit the Special Purpose Crisis Response MAGTF at their temporary operating facility in Spain in mid December.  Shortly after she observed their training efforts, the force went on its second mission, this one to South Sudan.

As  Brigadier General James S. O’Meara currently serving as commander, U.S. Marine Forces Europe, and deputy commander, U.S. Marine Forces Africa, commented about the SP-MAGTF in an earlier interview we conducted with him:

The SP-MAGTF is the basic Marine Corps air ground team or MAGTF approach but applied to a Special Purpose Mission. Special means it’s uniquely tailored to a particular mission or a few mission sets. 

In this case, the focus is upon security embassy reinforcements or a noncombatant evacuation.

Also, it is a rotational force, which provides a crisis response force able, to deal with EUCOM and AFRICOM needs. 

General Dempsey provided strategic guidance, which was looking for a force, which operates with a small footprint, and is low-cost, and rotational.  

Boarding Ospreys for the training exercise. Credit Photo: Murielle Delaporte

Boarding Ospreys for the training exercise. Credit Photo: Murielle Delaporte

This is the answer to that guidance. 

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.”

A rapid extraction force was ready and deployed to South Sudan operating within the AFRICOM context to support the mission in South Sudan in assisting in the removal of US personnel.

Her visit underscored the maxim that you train, deploy and train again to get the mission right.

The unit arrived in April 2013 and has engaged in extensive training and patterning with European and African units in preparing for missions in the AFRICOM and EURCOM areas of responsibility.

According to the SP-MAGTF in a press release in late December:

Tuesday evening (24 December), at approximately 2000 CET (1300 ET) U.S. Africa Command postured a platoon sized element and a KC-130J aircraft from the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response (SP-MAGTF CR), which was currently positioned at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, to Entebbe, Uganda. 

This forward posturing provides the Combatant Commander additional options and the ability to more quickly respond, if required, to help protect U.S. personal and facilities.    

24 combat loaded Marines can fast-rope from the back of the Osprey in a matter of seconds: the extra-weight of the gear and equipment as well as the rotors wind affecting the steadiness of the rope make this Helicopter Rope Suspension Training (HRST) challenging with «hands burning through the gloves» as one Marine put it… Photo credit: HRST training, SP-MAGTF CR, Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III, Moron de la Frontera, Spain, December 6th, 2013

24 combat loaded Marines can fast-rope from the back of the Osprey in a matter of seconds: the extra-weight of the gear and equipment as well as the rotors wind affecting the steadiness of the rope make this Helicopter Rope Suspension Training (HRST) challenging with «hands burning through the gloves» as one Marine put it…
Photo credit: HRST training, SP-MAGTF CR, Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III, Moron de la Frontera, Spain, December 6th, 2013

This movement was made with the full knowledge and cooperation of Ugandan authorities.  FROM 27 DEC:  Special-Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response (SP-MAGTF CR), based out of Moron Air Base, Spain, is the lead element for the Marines currently staged in Djibouti and Uganda. 

It has the ability to be augmented by additional Marine forces in the area, namely components of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa 13 (SP-MAGTF AF).   

At the time of the casualty evacuation of the 4 service members, the small contingent of Marines and Sailors from SP-MAGTF AF were participating in a pre-planned, logistics training engagement with the Ugandan People’s Defense Force.  

This training began on October 23 and ended on December 20, when approximately 160 UPDF soldiers graduated.  The training was to prepare a logistics company to deploy in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia.  

The role of SP-MAGTF AF is to strengthen partnerships between the U.S. Marine Corps and African nations. Its Marines and Sailors conduct security force assistance, military-to-military engagements, and are trained to provide support to crisis response.  SP-MAGTF Africa Marines and sailors from our unit’s Theater Security Cooperation team in Uganda assisted with the casualty care and en route care of the 4 service members who were wounded while assisting in the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Bor, South Sudan.  

The aircraft flew to Entebbe, Uganda, after sustaining damage and were received at the airport by our Marines and sailors.  Our team then assisted in loading the wounded service members and the provision of first aid care.  

Team members also accompanied the wounded service members aboard an Air Force C-17 to Nairobi, Kenya, to assist in the provision of en route care.

We will provide a series of snapshots of her visit to SP-MAGTF, followed later by analytical pieces summarizing her overview on the force and its evolving role.

Here we start with her look at:

“A Mission Rehearsal Drill: Reinforcing an Embassy.”

Getting Ready To Go

An interview with Captain Thomas Wallin, Ground Combat Element Commanding Officer

Question: Captain, how do you prepare and size the force for the mission?

Captain Wallin: This is our last meeting for coordination before we take off.

Captain Wallin, GCE Commander (Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III)

Captain Wallin, GCE Commander (Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III)

We get our order from US AFRICOM and we would look through what exactly the task is and we would plan out how we would do about accomplishing the task.

We come up with different scenarios – TRAP, MIA, non- combatant evacuation- but for this mission, i.e. embassy reinforcement, we have the Rota area map, where the embassy is located and helo landing zones (HLZs) have been identified.

We have used them before, so motion and coordination are very good: [the ACE] will let us know they can land here or there, and then we will let them know what scheme of maneuver we need to take to the embassy, how long it will take, how many casualties there are on the ground, if they need to be processed out, and so on.

We do know how much time we have as the Command will say something like: « by “this” time, we need you to have accomplished “x”… ».

Usually Colonel Freeland, the ACE commander, and I would do this, while the Tactical Air controller would make sure that the air portion is covered, i.e. the way to get there from the air with V22s and C130s, figure out exactly where we are going to land. The ground combat element coordinates in terms of feet on the ground.

Once we know the order, we assess the size of force we need ; I will recommend getting it down for the GCE and then colonel Freeland evaluates how much aviation assets we need to carry the ground element and for follow on support. In terms of sustainment, the MAGTF work well together and being able to scale it is a genuine advantage: a smaller force is easier to maneuver logistically speaking.

About twenty minutes is the time necessary to brief the GCE Marines, while the ACE Commander will let the pilots and the air group know what the mission is going to be; we then go down to the hangar, load up, do last minute checks on our equipment and then go to the airfield.

Question: Can ground vehicles brought in as well if necessary?

Captain Wallin: Yes indeed. If we land far away, we have ITVs [Internally Transportable Vehicles], which we can load in a MV-22. For this mission we do need them, as we will land as close as possible.

If we cannot land near the embassy, or if we cannot land where we need to recover a personnel, we will decide if we need ITVs to take us in land while MV22s and C130s will take us thousands of miles of way by air.

So we have very capable assets. When we worked with the Legionnaires, they brought ITVs and it was very good to work with them.

The French and Spanish legionnaires are very light forces and we train like they do.

Coming from different theaters, sharing these common experiences and learning from each other about what worked and what did not work was very good.

Question: Are the Marines briefed in flight as well?

Captain Wallin: The Marines are briefed on the ground, so everyone knows what the plan is, and then on the plane they get updates in case the situation gets worse on the ground.

That is a capability we have: we have to be able to make changes in case we need to.

The C130 and MV22 team C2 capability changes a lot with reach back and the ability to talk to us on the ground as well if the situation changes. The aircrafts usually travel together at the same because of in-flight refueling: the pairing is useful for that reason.

C2 can be done in Ospreys which can carry 24 combat loaded Marines, and depending on the mission, the C130 can carry extra fuel, extra equipment, extra passengers – 80 to 100 – but can also bring extra food, water, medical supplies, whatever they ask for.

Loading Up

An Interview with Corporal Perrone

Question: How different is it for you to train here compared with other experiences you had?

Corporal Perrone after the mission rehearsal drill (photo credit: Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III, SP-MAGTF CR)

Corporal Perrone after the mission rehearsal drill (photo credit: Staff Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III, SP-MAGTF CR)

Corporal Perrone: It is pretty much the same here, as the assets we have here help us to get ready for any kind of missions we have.

Question: What kind of gear do you carry for today’s mission?

Corporal Perrone: We have our sustainment pack with maximum amount of water and MRE (meals ready to eat), full combat load with full protection gear and ammunition rounds: all together this amounts to 80 to 90 pounds.

Question: Did everything go the way you wanted today?

Corporal Perrone: Yes, everything went according to plans; we solved some minor discrepancies, but all went smoothly.

We train a couple of times a week all throughout the day – night and day – and on a wide variety of missions and not the same drill, so that the PCCs and PCRs go smoothly [processes of checking gear] and everyone knows the plan for all the different missions we do as a SP-MAGTF.

Editor’s Note:  The SP-MAGTF Crisis Response was formed over an 8-month period and first deployed to Europe for temporary basing in April 2013.

Several training sessions in Europe and Africa with various European and African partners have occurred through the year, but the Sudan mission was the second deployment of the force.

The first operation of SP-MAGTF Crisis Response was in May when they reinforced the U.S. Embassy at  Tripoli with a platoon-sized element.

Training for deployment is a key part of mission success and in the photos various aspects of the training and equipment of the SP-MAGTF Crisis Response is highlighted.

The Osprey is crown jewel of the SP-MAGTF Crisis Response in terms of equipment but the KC-130J is a key enabler.

By taking its own lift and tanking capability with it, the unit has autonomy in operations and long legs for a deployment.

Photo Credits: Photos 1 through 6 were shot by Murielle Delaporte.

 Photo 7 was provided by SP-MAGTF Crisis Response

  • In photo one, the KC-130J is seen behind the Ospreys.
  • In photo 2, SP-MAGTF Crisis Response leaders prepare for the mission.
  • In photo 3, SP-MAGTF Crisis Response members get ready for the mission.
  • In photo 4, SP-MAGTF Crisis Response members get ready to board an Osprey.
  • Photos 5 and 6 provide a broader view of the SP-MAGTF Crisis Response Ospreys.
  • Photo 7 takes another look at SP-MAGTF Crisis Response members getting ready to board an Osprey.

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