OKINAWA, JAPAN — A helicopter hovers 25-feet above the deck of the ship as combat rubber raiding craft simultaneously crash through the waves toward the hostile vessel.
This was the scene as 30 Marines with Force Reconnaissance Platoon took part in a visit, board, search and seizure exercise aboard the USNS Dahl off the coast of Okinawa Dec. 1-6.
The platoon, attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted the training to prepare Marines in the event they are tasked with seizing a merchant cargo ship from pirates or weapons smugglers.
The Marines secured key locations aboard the ship after fast-roping from a U.S. Air Force UH-60 Sea Hawk to the deck.
The exercise began with classes about maritime law, regarding search and seizure of cargo vessels, structural layout of different classes of merchant ships and history of previous visit, board, search seizure missions, according to a sergeant with Special Operations Training Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF.
The Marines then took a tour of the USNS Dahl to familiarize themselves with the interior of a cargo ship.
“It’s important for the Force Reconnaissance Marines aboard the MEU to understand how to seize merchant ships rather than warships because odds are pirates won’t attempt to seize a naval warship,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brian M. Pavlus, a chief instructor with the SOTG. “Training on the Dahl allows us to make the training more realistic.”
The Force Reconnaissance Marines used the top down-bottom up method to clear the ship and secure key locations on the vessel.
“The best thing about the VBSS was we were able to do a top down and then bottom up clearing of the ship, with a full mission profile,” said 2nd Lt. Ashley Thompson, Force Reconnaissance platoon commander with the 31st MEU. “We started clearing the top of the ship via helicopters, fast-roping in, and boarded the ship from the bottom to take the lower portion.
They took the key areas of the ship very quickly, allowing us to take control of the ship’s navigation,” he added. “They did a very good job of securing other key areas for (casualty evacuation) and the movement of other personnel, so we could hand the ship over to the Navy.”
The training is designed to prepare the Marines for the spring certification exercise, which ensures the 31st MEU is capable to conduct operations such as noncombatant evacuation operations, tactical recovery of personnel, amphibious raids, and assaults and theater security operations, according to Pavlus.
“Given that it is a high-piracy area, it is great practice for us should we ever have to do the real thing,” said Thompson.