OKINAWA, JAPAN --
On Feb. 17, 2021, Marines and Sailors of 1st Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment (1/2), 2d Marine Division returned from a paradigm shifting deployment in the vast and exotic training areas of Japan. During a year marred by the effects of COVID-19, the battalion successfully deployed to Okinawa, Japan in the Fall of 2020, as part of the Unit Deployment Program (UDP).
After arriving in Japan, the battalion adhered to a strict two-week restriction of movement plan. Upon release from isolation, Marines continued to abide by the standard COVID guidelines and other considerations by the host nation, with strict supervision.
“We went in with the intent of paying the cost upfront,” said Maj. Dennis Graziosi, operations officer, 1/2. “It hurt that Marines were sitting in tough restrictions, but after the two weeks of restriction we were able to begin training while adhering to protocol. Bottom line is, heavy restrictions allowed us to do more at the end of the day.”
The Unit Deployment Program was first established in 1977 as a way to improve unit continuity by, then Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Louis H. Wilson Jr. What was once a deployment focused on Theater Security Cooperation exercises with allied and partner nations, has shifted towards a new focus in alignment with strategic guidance and concepts. Today the program is focused on deterring potential adversaries in the region, and reassuring allies and partners of America’s commitment to the security of the region.
“A key point that was noticed very early on is that the operating environment was changing from a traditional TSC deployment to a more operationally focused deployment to deter adversaries,” Graziosi said. “We wanted to execute and distribute operations as far as possible to test our ability to command and control.”
In the months before the deployment, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines prepared for the worst of challenges posed by COVID-19, and aggressively planned to make the most of their time in Japan.
During their deployment on the Pacific nation, the battalion executed a series of bilateral and unilateral exercises across Okinawa and Camp Fuji, Japan: Jungle Warfare Training, Exercise Noble Fury, Exercise Keen Sword, Joint Integrated Training Exercise, force-on-force Jungle Warfare Exercise, and Exercise Fuji Viper on Camp Fuji.
Throughout all of these training exercises, the unit was able to skillfully implement emerging warfighting concepts that have been the subject of the Commandant's Planning Guidance, Force Design 2030, the National Defense Strategy, and other strategic documents.
Lt. Col. Gabriel Diana, Commanding Officer, 1/2, discussed the UDP saying, “The Commandant’s Planning Guidance directs Fleet Marine Forces to support U.S. Navy Fleet in littoral waters in support of sea denial and control operations.” He continued, “These exercises improve III MEF’s and 2d Marine Division’s ability to establish expeditionary fires bases and forward arming and refueling points throughout the Indo-Pacific at any time and place, further enabling the Navy and the larger joint force in times of conflict.”
Concepts such as expeditionary advanced-base operations (EABO), distributed maritime operations (DMO), and littoral combat operations (LCO) were central in framing how the battalion would conduct exercises and training. The battalion accomplished these high-level concepts by completely changing their mind-set when planning exercises and training. Even the naming convention of field exercise (FEX), changed to distributed lethality exercise (DLEX).
“The DLEX training design provided a first step in how we may leverage unique capabilities to rapidly disperse to and operate from key maritime terrain,” Diana said. “It also offers sustainment to these distributed positions, and quickly displace or withdraw as necessitated by the tactical situation.”
Every exercise that the battalion participated in presented another opportunity to refine the way the battalion conducted command and control in a distributed environment. Whether it was a company participating in Joint Integrated Training Exercise, or a bi-lateral exercise like Noble Fury, small unit leaders were put to the test and were expected to perform their duty far from the command post.
“Throughout the deployment, we maintained readiness by pushing our small unit leaders out of their comfort zones to make decisions,” said Captain Henry Bielenberg, a combined anti-armor team platoon commander with 1/2. “This was a great experience for our junior leaders with a lot of them able to work amongst their peers and to be able to create mission success.”
The Marines not only applied decision-making at a junior leader level but also experimented with the use of ultra-high frequency and very-high frequency radios. Typically, something that isn’t taught in great detail to infantry Marines, communications training requires small unit leaders to be able to operate independently and at great distance from higher and adjacent commands.
“A critical skillset we have, and improved a lot in, was our communication capabilities. Especially when we were at Camp Fuji and participating in operations with adjacent units over in Okinawa,” Bielenberg said. “We were very fortunate to be able to learn and improve with ultra-high frequencies and very high frequencies. This is a skill that we will be able to take back to Camp Lejeune and further apply to our future operations.”
The unit enhanced their preparation to be more lethal by adapting themselves to the Jungle environment, which is quite different from their past experiences.
“When we first began training, we had to consider the factors of the humidity, dense vegetation, and mountainous terrain,” said First Lt. Ryan Martoff, a Weapon’s platoon commander with 1/2. “Encountering the jungle terrain allowed Marines to incorporate additional tactic considerations into planning and execution to continue to effectively seize key maritime terrain and employ our various weapon systems.”
The unit was able to take part in the Infantry Jungle Skills Course and a force-on-force event at the Jungle Training Warfare Center against servicemembers in the Japanese Defense Force. This training helped prepare them to employ tactics for future exercises with the Japanese Defense Forces, and exercise EABO and DMO principles.
“By participating in the Infantry Jungle Skills Course, we were able to acquire many skills that we will now have for the future,” Martoff said. “We adapted our tactics of rappelling, patrolling, and land navigation to the jungle environments of Japan.”
Overall, the Unit Deployment Program energized the Marine Corps’ focus on emerging warfighting concepts, and it challenged the battalion to creatively conduct operations in new ways.