Some TV programs and cruise line ads describe their programs and trips as the “ultimate” something or other. Today I talked with two senior officers who I think can claim the ultimate cruise: They visited 22 countries, 5 continents, saved lives, fought pirates, delivered relief supplies, rescued folks at sea, supported combat ops in Afghanistan and … I think you are getting the picture of what Captain Dale Fuller and Colonel Roy Osborn’s adventure looked like but they told us a lot more about their 7 months at sea commanding the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) respectively. Of course, they are always looking for strong, healthy and willing participants for the next adventure! Just find your local Navy or Marine recruiter to see these exciting locations!
With 30 years of military experience I know the military relies on humor to get through tough situations but these 4,000 sailors and marines were involved in some serious efforts involving our national security, international good will and cooperation and the ultimate, saving lives! Both men commented on the lives saved from a capsized dhow off the Horn of Africa as being the story that has not been told in the press. Desperate for a better life 84 men, women (two were pregnant) and children climbed into a dhow designed for up to 20 according to the captain and headed for Yemen from Somalia and Ethiopia. After being rescued at sea they spent 38 days on board till they could be placed in Kenya on November 6th. Captain Fuller said they could see them getting healthier with each day’s passing while on board with medical care and food. The seas around them are violent with human and narcotic trafficking, piracy and no functioning government ashore in Somalia but they sought a better life despite the gut wrenching risks.
The pirates encountered the US Marines and Navy from the MEU and ARG after capturing the MV Magellan Star. The Gulf of Aden is a pirate haven but the marine/sailor team took 19 minutes to re-take the ship and capture the nine pirates! Describing the event in detail both men expressed the pride and professionalism displayed by those involved. The Magellan Star's crew had blocked themselves in a “citadel” so strong that it took 5 hours to reach them and let them know that US personnel were on board. Describing the process the men explained how the doors had been welded shut to keep out the pirates and finally how their team cut a hole in the metal to display a US flag to demonstrate that friendlies were in charge!
We jumped from the Gulf of Aden to Pakistan next with the devastating floods that country had during the “ultimate cruise” that lasted from May 2010 till December 2010. I have written earlier about some of the efforts to help the Pakistanis but these men directed the efforts of MEU and ARG during 120 degree temperatures, 100% humidity and extremely difficult conditions. Launching their CH-53s to a forwarding operating base 750 miles from their ship (Col Osborn thought this was the longest non stop helo flight for the Marines) the aircraft were air refueled by KC-130s. Joining the 53s were CH-46s that totaled 19 aircraft and 300 marines in Pakistan to support the relief efforts. They saved the lives of 8,000 folks by relocating them from isolated villages and flood blocked areas with no food or water. They moved 5 million pounds of relief aid as well directly to the outlying and cutoff areas from the World Food Program. There for two months, they flew their aircraft 8-10 hours per day with no security issues.
The Pakistan military were very professional, but a bit leery of allowing US Marines in their country. After seeing our men and women work 14-16 hours a day to help their countrymen they developed and enjoyed a typical military to military relationship. Impressed by our work ethic and that the Marines were there because “we were asked to be” they were very thankful for our assistance. The officers described the evacuees as just thankful! A great example of the US efforts and capabilities to support the flood victims were additional CH-53 aircraft provided to the MEU for the effort. The four additional aircraft were flown to Afghanistan in US Air Force cargo aircraft (either C-5 or C-17s), prepared for flight by maintenance and then flown into Pakistan to assist. Quite an amazing feat that not many other countries can do (you can join that part of the ultimate but different cruise by seeing your Air Force recruiter).
During all of these activities the MEU and ARG found time to conduct exercises with allies along the way including medical and support combat operations in Afghanistan. The commanders both stated how proud they were of the marines and sailors under their command for their professionalism and the fantastic job they had accomplished! If you would like to listen to an audio or read a transcript of this great Roundtable discussion please go to DoDLive. For other blogs from Col K go to MilitaryAvenue.com’s Our Letters to You/Col K!
The amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu transits the South Pacific Ocean in high seas during the conclusion of a deployment to the western Pacific Ocean, Nov. 26, 2010. The Peleliu is the flagship of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group and is returning to homeport in San Diego. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class David Turnham
A U.S. Marine Corps Sea Knight helicopter performs a main mount hover on a strip of road too narrow for a full landing in the southern province of Sindh, Pakistan, to deliver relief supplies during humanitarian-assistance operations, Sept. 26, 2010. The helicopter is assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Paul Duncan
Navy Capt. Dale Fuller, the former Amphibious Squadron 3 commander of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy.
Marine Corps Col. Roy Osborn, commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Photo courtesy of U.S Marine Corps.