PORT OF MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. --
Amidst one of North Carolina’s humid, starless nights, a colossal gray hull appeared in the Port of Morehead City, N.C., June 24, 2010. The seemingly abandoned ship quietly nestled in beside a dry dock just before the sky opened up to let loose a torrential downpour. When the rain finally subsided, it was clear that the “Largs Bay,” a Bay Class Landing Ship Dock, was actually teeming with life – several hundred troops from the United Kingdom.
The troops were anxious to stretch their legs after being at sea for more than two straight weeks, but more importantly, to begin combined training with U.S. Marines as part of Operation Auriga. The goal of Auriga is to continue to strengthen both nations’ amphibious capabilities.
U.S. Marines with II Marine Expeditionary Force aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., are hosting training for the UK troops, primarily the 42 Commando Royal Marines, until the end of July. This type of bilateral training promotes camaraderie and interoperability between the two nations’ militaries.
“We as Royal Marines are quite proud of the link we have with the United States Marine Corps,” said Maj. Simon Westlake, commanding officer of Logistics Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines. “I’ve worked with the USMC on a significant number of occasions, and I always look forward to it. It’s a great sharing of experiences as we develop an understanding of how we operate – our thinking and our mindsets.”
Though amphibious operations remain at the heart of the U.S. Marine Corps mission, recent landlocked operations in the Middle East have kept both the U.S., as well as nations like the UK, mostly constrained to dry ground.
“This is our core capability as Royal Marines,” said Westlake. “We are the UK’s amphibious force. We always have to focus on amphibious capabilities. If you have an amphibious force, it gives the nation military flexibility.”
"Amphibious forces have enormous deterrent value against potential adversaries," said Col. Bruce MacLachlan, the future II MEF operations officer. "Historically, the U.S. and the U.K. are maritime powers, and this exercise provides the opportunity for units from both nations to learn from one another and to hone skills essential to our mutual security in the future."
Recently, the Royal Marines carried out the second of three phases of Operation Auriga, which consisted of small arms, sniper and mortar fire, and military operations in urban terrain courses. All three phases will culminate in a field exercise conducted alongside U.S. Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit toward the end of July.
Westlake said Camp Lejeune is definitely unique when compared to other areas where the Royal Marines have trained.
“To us, it is a cracking [top notch] training environment,” said Westlake. “We’re very welcoming of this opportunity to use the training areas over here… it’s a challenging environment for us, but hugely beneficial in terms of training and maintaining amphibious capabilities.”
Auriga also gives both nations’ Marines a chance to work together before deploying to Afghanistan together. Many of the Royal Marines participating in the exercises are scheduled to be the same Royal Marines who will work with II MEF’s forward deployed Marines in 2011.
“The ability to seamlessly integrate and operate with one of our closest allies is one of the key aims of the Auriga,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Falcone, an action officer for the MEF’s part in the exercise. “Training opportunities like this will pay huge dividends in future coalition operations.”