Beaufort Marines play role in massive military exercise

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 9, 2012 

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Beaufort Marines and fighter pilots joined troops from England, France, Italy and several other countries this week to help the Corps return to its amphibious roots.

Several of the F-18 Hornet squadrons at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort participated Wednesday and Thursday in Operation Bold Alligator, an East Coast amphibious-assault exercise featuring more than 14,000 Marines and sailors, as well as troops from about 10 allied countries.

The intent of the exercise, the largest of its kind in more than a decade, was to test the Navy and Marine Corps' ability to get boots on the beach after years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Capt. Geoff Franks, a pilot from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122.

"We want to see how well we can execute an amphibious operation," Franks said. "The air wing plays a big role in that, and this will test how well we can integrate with the other parts of the (Marine Air-Ground Task Force.)"

As part of the exercise, air station pilots flew to offshore ranges in the Atlantic Ocean and to Townsend Bombing Range near Ludowici, Ga., to practice launching long-range airstrikes and providing close air support for ground troops, Franks said.

"We have to be able to do all of those things and suppress, neutralize or destroy enemy air defense systems and other high-value targets before it's safe for our Marines to come ashore," Franks said.

Elsewhere this week, fighter jets, helicopters and other aircraft were launched from aircraft carriers and assault ships, and Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., staged a full-scale beach landing near Jacksonville, N.C., as part of the exercise.

As wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, training missions like Operation Bold Alligator will become more critical for the Navy and Marines, said Lt. Sharon Hyland, air station spokeswoman.

"We are the branch of the military that can fight by land, by air and by sea," Hyland said. "It's important for us to be able to restore our confidence that we haven't lost our amphibious fighting skills while we've been engaged in these two wars. It's time for us to return to our roots."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/OnBaseBeaufort.

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