U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF OPERATIONS, May 13, 2015 - Since its inception in 1775, the U.S. Marine Corps has been providing security for naval ships. In the 239 years since, the Marine Corps has expanded into missions in the air and on land while remaining faithful to its amphibious, sea-borne capabilities. Given current military technology, U.S. Navy vessels are fully capable of defending themselves from threats, but both the Marine Corps and Navy strive for better ways to improve their fighting strength.
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit stepped back into a more direct naval defensive role on April 28 when they augmented security for the mine countermeasures ship USS Sentry during a transit through the Strait of Bab al Mandeb between Yemen and the east coast of Africa.
“We put Marines over on the minesweeper initially for what we call a ‘proof of concept,’” said Maj. Tyler Holland, the 24th MEU assistant operations officer. “The smaller ship has some self-defense capabilities, but by putting Marines over there, it gives them an additional capability and helps them augment their force protection.”
Considering regional issues, the integration of Marines in the Navy’s defense posture comes at a critical time as the Navy is being tasked with supporting a variety of maritime missions. Navy Lt. Paul Valcke, the Sentry’s operations officer, said the Sentry is currently part of a multinational mine countermeasures force that is conducting mine warfare operations.
The Marines and sailors came together to establish a more robust small caliber action team than the ship is accustomed. The Strait of Bab al Mandeb is a high traffic area used by military vessels and merchant shipping companies that move a high volume of the world’s goods and oil. The volume of traffic places a premium on security and requires a fluid working relationship among those executing the security mission.
Valcke said he believed this was the first time the Sentry had Marines aboard and the first time any mine countermeasures ship’s security had been augmented by Marines, adding that the sister services came together and performed well.
“The [Navy and Marine] integration on the Sentry was seamless and provided an unexpected opportunity to stretch the bounds of force integration,” said Lt. Cmdr. Janice Pollard, the Sentry's commanding officer.
Marines from the 24th MEU, who are embarked on the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York and deployed to maintain security throughout the U.S. Central Command area of operations, are familiar with small caliber action team operations on the much larger ship — the New York can carry around 1,500 personnel. The Sentry carries less than 100 people, and there were challenges and benefits associated with applying tactics on a smaller scale.
“The Sentry is much smaller, so everything that needed to get done went a lot quicker,” said Sgt. Peter Gentry III, an anti-tank missileman with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU. “There was no lag time in word being passed, and crosstalk between us was extremely smooth.”
With a solid working relationship in place, the Marines and sailors were able to exchange information on how each side handles security posture. The Marines expanded the ship’s defensive capabilities by bringing additional weapons systems.
“[The Marines brought weapons] that augmented the Sentry’s defenses by extending engagement zones and enabling the Sentry to ‘punch above her weight,’” said Navy Lt. Lawrence Heyworth IV, the Sentry's executive officer.
According to Heyworth, having anti-tank missiles allowed the ship to have a more effective long-range offensive capability.
At the completion of the transit, Marines and sailors said they walked away impressed by the ease at which they were able to work together and by the level of care and expertise each had in conducting security while making the transit.
“The Marines seemed especially impressed with the level of ownership and dedication to combat readiness demonstrated by the minemen onboard Sentry,” said Pollard. “They seemed caught off-guard when our [crew-served weapons] teams wanted to discuss engagement tactics, such as “’crossing streams.’”
The Sentry transited the strait without incident, and Marines said they returned to the New York and the amphibious Navy they are used to with new experiences and a newfound appreciation for one of the Navy’s smaller ships — a side of the Navy that Marines do not often see.
“The Sentry’s sailors were extremely professional,” said Gentry. “Their tactical mindset was very well established and you could tell they took the defense of the ship very seriously. They were very accommodating and assisted a lot. They gave us everything we needed.”