Marines conduct experimental exercise at Fort Pickett

By MCC Johnny Michael
Bold Alligator Public Affairs

Two V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft land at Fort Pickett Feb. 7 after travelling more than 180 miles from off the Virginia coast during Operation Bold Alligator 12, the largest amphibious exercise in the past 10 years. (Photo Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Approximately 230 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit descended upon Fort Pickett, Va., Feb. 7 in an unprecedented raid launched from USS Iwo Jima at sea more than 180 miles away.

The raid was part of an experiment planned by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory and incorporated into Bold Alligator 2012, the largest amphibious exercise of its kind on the east coast in 10 years.

Bold Alligator 2012 pits a coalition of 10 nations against a notional aggressor nation. The enemy forces have established a terrorist camp in the area known in the real world as Fort Pickett. Several days prior to the raid, the 24th MEU and Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group sent a small force of reconnaissance troops into the area to survey the enemy position. Upon confirmation of the enemy’s presence, the coalition launched the raid.

The raid force was carried from Iwo Jima to Fort Pickett via a combination of three MV-22 Ospreys and two CH-53 Sea Stallions, each landing in several waves throughout the day.

The raid force consisted of the Marines and the equipment needed to hold and sustain a position inside the simulated enemy territory. The gear included a number of emergent technologies developed at Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in conjunction with partner research agencies, including the Office of Naval Research. These innovations included mobile solar power cells, small unit water purification systems, more efficient rations and a communications suite that provides increased command and control capabilities.

Fort Pickett was selected as the location of this part of the experiment for its close proximity off the coast, but also for the air space above that allows for complex combined arms training, explained Brig. Gen. Mark Wise, commanding officer of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. Not only could the Marines conduct air assault operations and live fire training, but the Marine aircraft were able to conduct aerial refueling operations in the skies above the post.

Marines invade Fort Pickett, Va., Feb. 7 via V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and Ch-53 Sea Stallion helicopters during Operation Bold Alligator 12, the largest amphibious exercise in the past 10 years. Bold Alligator 12 represents the Navy and Marine Corps' revitalization of the full range of amphibious operations. The exercise focuses on today's fight with today's forces, while showcasing the advantages of seabasing. The exercise will take place Jan. 30 - Feb. 12, 2012 afloat and ashore in and around Virginia and North Carolina. (Photo Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

“You can only do that because of the complex nature of what Fort Pickett allows you to do,” Wise said.

In addition to the capabilities of the training areas, Wise said he was also impressed with the people who run Fort Pickett.

“For something like this to come together, there are so many moving parts and so many people involved that at any moment a piece could fall out and put the whole environment at risk, but we have had zero problems,” Wise said. “Not only has everyone on the base been so accommodating, but they also lean forward into everything so before it becomes a problem, it gets fixed. Everyone has bent over backwards to make this successful.”

The improved communications system consists in part of a satellite-based radio and the command and control elements that tie into it onboard Iwo Jima. Ten of the radios, called the distributed tactical communications system, were deployed with the raid force. In addition to improving on-the-ground communication between Marines, the system also provided an enhanced ability to track individual Marines – the ship saw each radio as an icon on a large color display with a map overlay. In the past, this “blue force tracking” capability had been limited to vehicles, not individual troops.

Logistics advances that supported the experiment included better integration with the sea-basing capabilities of the Navy’s logistic ships. Most important, Navy T-AKE (logistics support and supply) ships have been cleared to launch and recover Ospreys, thus enabling ongoing resupply from the sea to forces well inland. This capability also will have significant implications for humanitarian and disaster relief missions in the future.

The technologies tested during the event were part of an overall effort by the Marine Corps and Navy to reestablish a focus on amphibious operations that allow smaller forces to be deployed more efficiently and with greater sustainability. Without them, a raid of this size could never be deployed and sustained so far inland.

“This is about enabling smaller units to go longer distances,” said Wise. “Each of the technologies we’re using enables us to do that. We’re increasing situational awareness and becoming more efficient.”

The experiment will continue until Feb. 11, when it will culminate in a live fire exercise. The 24th MEU is also in the midst of its certification exercise, a requirement for future deployments, and one of three certifications rolled into the larger Bold Alligator 2012 event. Bold Alligator 2012 wraps up Feb. 13, ending two weeks of amphibious operations meant to revitalize the Navy and Marine Corps core capability of projecting power from the sea.

“This is exciting stuff,” said Wise. “This is not just a Marine Corps capability – we’re getting back to our amphibious roots. In Iraq and Afghanistan, our forces were heavy, now as we draw down we need to get lighter, to become that more capable ‘middleweight’ force. The only way we can meet this requirement is because of our relationship with the world’s finest Navy.”

Additional reporting by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs.

To view additional photos from the event, visit: