JULY 12, 2016, SUSEONG RANGE, Republic of Korea – On one side of a range, U.S. woodland uniforms and the gray Republic of Korea digital camouflage uniforms merge together as the Marines sit shoulder to shoulder on the back of a truck. On the other side, ROK and U.S. Marines wait in the darkness of assault amphibious vehicles, rifles in hand and ready to attack. ROK tanks align and await their opportunity to engage in the fight, and Bell utility helicopters are heard approaching in the distance.
The ground shakes as the sounds of explosions begin. The first shots come raining down toward the supposed location of the enemy. Mortar fire goes off and the riflemen in the back of the trucks jump out and push in toward the tree line. The ROK tanks drive into action followed by the AAVs.
Such is the scenario when approximately 600 Marines and sailors with III Marine Expeditionary Force tested their bi-lateral capabilities with ROK Marines during Korean Marine Exchange Program 16-11 starting June 27, 2016.
The exercise is an ongoing relationship between the U.S. and ROK specifically for forward readiness. KMEP 16-11 is the first exercise designed to build a regimental-sized Marine Air-Ground Task Force capability within the ROK Marine Corps.
The Korean Marine Corps has never fought with an air combat element, ground combat element and logistics combat element synchronized to take down a large scale strategic objective, according to 1st Lt. Patrick Vincent, an infantry officer with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, currently assigned to 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, under the Unit Deployment Program. Vincent believes working together through an exercise of this size will build confidence within the small units themselves and also the commands.
“We’re showing them how the Marine Corps does [the MAGTF operation] because that’s really what the Marine Corps is best at,” said Vincent. “We’re demonstrating our capabilities with that and hopefully we’re influencing the Korean Marine Corps.”
Preparation for the actual combined-arms exercise was from June 27-July 5. This included small-unit training sessions and rehearsals of the big event. During this time, ROK and U.S. Marines integrated and worked together to learn each other’s skills and techniques.
Col. Jong Bum Jung, the 7th regimental commander of ROK Marines, believes that the methods used, with combining the ROK and U.S. Marines into one force, helped complete the mission.
“The rifle company has established combined forces to carry out the exercise and with that I have come to the conclusion that this way of participating was astonishingly effective in becoming proficient with combat techniques,” said Jung. “As a commanding officer I’m feeling very proud.”
The culminating combined-arms exercise occurred July 6, 2016 and included U.S. Marines with 2nd Marine Battalion, 2nd Marines as the main effort with support from Marine Aircraft Group 36 and Combat Logistics Battalion 4. The ROK Marines involved were with 73rd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
To finalize the operation, a “Super Huey” lowered into the helicopter pad and dropped off ‘urgent supply’. U.S. and ROK Marines worked together to carry a training casualty into the aircraft and ran away fast before experiencing a blast of wind and dirt. The helicopter took off into the air, the propellers spinning like a giant fan, kicking up dirt and whipping the trees back and forth.
Integrating the Marines is a must, as it develops relations and trust between the U.S. and ROK Marines, according to Lance Cpl. Ryan Bosler, a rifleman with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines currently assigned to 4th Marines under the Unit Deployment Program.
“They’re our allies,” said Bosler. “One day we might be working together in a real-life situation. It’s important to build that trust and confidence in one another and build those relations with our counterparts. So when that day comes when we actually have to do something together we’re familiar with each other.”