Marines, Sailors conduct landmark sea-basing exercise off the coast of Liberia

USS FORT MCHENRY, at sea — Marines from 4th Landing Support Battalion and Sailors from Amphibious Construction Battalion 2, position a seven-ton Medium Tactical Vehicle as it is moved from the USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo, a maritime prepositioning ship, onto the Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) March 21. The Marines are transferring the equipment in order to evaluate the INLS at sea and to conduct a humanitarian assistance mission in Monrovia, Liberia as part of West African Training Cruise 2008. The WATC 08 exercise began March 17 and runs through April 5 in concert with the ongoing African Partnership Station deployment with a focus on the delivery of humanitarian assistance supplies to various clinics and schools here from a sea-based command. (Department of Defense photo by Marine Sgt. Rocco DeFilippis)

USS FORT MCHENRY, at sea — Marines and Sailors participating in Western Africa Training Cruise 08, a landmark sea-basing proof-of-concept exercise, completed their first phase of maneuvers off the coast of Monrovia, Liberia, March 21.

The WATC 08 exercise began March 17 and runs through April 5 in concert with the ongoing African Partnership Station deployment, with a focus on the delivery of humanitarian assistance supplies to various clinics and schools in Monrovia, Liberia from a sea-based command.

Marines and Sailors from 4th Landing Support Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, completed the first phase by transferring vehicles and equipment from the maritime prepositioning ships, USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo and USNS Lance Cpl. Roy M. Wheat, to the USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43).

With the help of the Navy's Navy Cargo Handling Battalion One, 19 Marines of 4th LSB employed new concepts and equipment during the exercise designed to evaluate the progress of the seabasing model.

"This sea-basing portion is designed to take future operational concepts and execute them using today's platforms," said Michael Harvey, prepositioning officer, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe. "We are taking equipment that was originally designed for ship-to-shore movement and we are using it as a ship-to-ship connecter."

Assisted by their naval counterparts, the Marines' mission was to transfer seven Marine Corps vehicles embarked on the USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo of the Maritime Preposition Squadron One, to the Navy's new Improved Navy Lighterage System. The INLS is a system of floating causeways designed to move equipment from ship-to-shore. After a short ride on the INLS, the Marines drove the vehicles from the INLS platforms directly into the well deck of the USS Fort McHenry, where they are being prepared for the next phases of WATC 08.

"We are dealing with multiple naval platforms during this exercise, tying in with African Partnership Station," said Marine Lt. Col. Clarence R. Edmonds, Eurasia regional planner, Marine Forces Europe. "[The INLS] gives us the stable platform we need to offload vehicles and equipment from one ship to another at sea."

The exercise marked the first time that the INLS had been assembled and used in an open sea environment, Edmonds said. The capabilities provided by the INLS make it possible for the Marine Corps to operate in more flexible ways.

"The sea-basing environment gives us the opportunity to offload select equipment, materials and supplies to conduct arrival and assembly operations at sea," Edmonds said. "This gives us multiple capabilities to execute a mission ashore, within a very limited time frame and with a very limited footprint [ashore]."

The successful demonstration of the offload and transfer of equipment to the USS Fort McHenry marks only the first stage of the total WATC 08 mission. When vehicle preparations are complete, the Marines and sailors will load them back on the INLS for transfer to the High Speed Vessel Swift, which will then take the Marines and vehicles into the Port of Monrovia in order to conduct the humanitarian assistance mission.

"This is the first time almost all of these Marines have been aboard a ship," said Staff Sgt. Gregory Matzen, inspector/instructor staff, 4th LSB. "The experience they gain during this exercise will help increase their capabilities and make them more well-rounded Marines..รข?

With the first phase of testing and evaluation finished, the Marines said they are looking forward to the other aspects of the exercise.

"With this unique capability, we are able to execute the mission, retrograde and regenerate that equipment at sea, and quickly, be ready for another mission," Edmonds said. "Overall, not only are we able to test this concept, this event provides the Marine Corps with a great opportunity to get Marines back on to naval shipping to interact with their naval counterparts in executing a maritime mission at sea."

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