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Alligator Dagger Exercise Tests Warfighting Capabilities

By Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sandra Arnold, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade

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GULF OF ADEN, Sept. 6, 2017 — In the early morning hours, two miles off the coast of Djibouti, an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit prepares to come ashore in what will prove to be a visually breathtaking experience.

An air-cushioned landing craft approaches the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego during exercise Alligator Dagger off the coast of Djibouti, Sept. 4, 2017. An Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit team is deployed as a crisis response and contingency force prepared to conduct operations and partner nation training. Alligator Dagger is a dedicated, unilateral combat rehearsal led by Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, in which combined Navy and Marine Corps units of the America Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are to practice, rehearse and exercise integrated capabilities that are available to U.S. Central Command both afloat and ashore. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy Laboy
An air-cushioned landing craft approaches the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego during exercise Alligator Dagger off the coast of Djibouti, Sept. 4, 2017. An Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit team is deployed as a crisis response and contingency force prepared to conduct operations and partner nation training. Alligator Dagger is a dedicated, unilateral combat rehearsal led by Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, in which combined Navy and Marine Corps units of the America Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are to practice, rehearse and exercise integrated capabilities that are available to U.S. Central Command both afloat and ashore. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy Laboy
An air-cushioned landing craft approaches the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego during exercise Alligator Dagger off the coast of Djibouti, Sept. 4, 2017. An Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit team is deployed as a crisis response and contingency force prepared to conduct operations and partner nation training. Alligator Dagger is a dedicated, unilateral combat rehearsal led by Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, in which combined Navy and Marine Corps units of the America Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are to practice, rehearse and exercise integrated capabilities that are available to U.S. Central Command both afloat and ashore. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy Laboy Air Familiarization
An air-cushioned landing craft approaches the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego during exercise Alligator Dagger off the coast of Djibouti, Sept. 4, 2017. An Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit team is deployed as a crisis response and contingency force prepared to conduct operations and partner nation training. Alligator Dagger is a dedicated, unilateral combat rehearsal led by Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, in which combined Navy and Marine Corps units of the America Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are to practice, rehearse and exercise integrated capabilities that are available to U.S. Central Command both afloat and ashore. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy Laboy

As waves of Marines launch from air-cushioned landing craft off USS Pearl Harbor and USS San Diego steam toward Arta Beach in a calculated formation, they strategically position themselves in preparation for an assault during Alligator Dagger, a two-week exercise that prepares incoming ARG/MEU teams in the region for operations in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

"An ARG/MEU brings an incredible amount of flexibility to the fight," said Navy Cmdr. Tom Sandoval, deputy operations director for Naval Amphibious Forces, Task Force 51/5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade. "Whether it be at sea or ashore, our 'jack-of-all-trades' team is capable of conducting missions ranging from airborne mine countermeasures, counterpiracy and maritime security operations to humanitarian aid [and] disaster relief missions in the world's most volatile regions."

Commanded by Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Frank Donovan, the task force -- the first command of its kind since World War II -- integrates the ARG/MEU afloat, the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force ashore and Fleet Anti-terrorism Support Teams under one unified command structure to seamlessly form a robust and capable crisis response force.

First Opportunity to Train Together

Marine Corps Col. Howard Hall, TF 51/5 operations director, said this is the first opportunity for Task Force 51/5 sailors and Marines to train together as a fully integrated Navy and Marine Corps team alongside the newly-commissioned USS Lewis B. Puller; an expeditionary mobile base platform that will enable the task force to extend its expeditionary presence.

"We've been looking forward to participating in this dedicated unilateral training," Sandoval said. "This exercise will confirm what we already know about our strengths, but it will also allow us to evaluate where we can best focus our efforts in preparation for real-world missions in the region – because we don't get 'do-overs' when it comes to crisis operations. We must be prepared to get it right the first time."

In addition to the combat proficiency training, this exercise will incorporate live-fire, vessel board, search and seizure operations and tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, as well as air and amphibious assault evolutions to ensure tactical proficiency.

About 2,000 sailors and Marines from the America-class amphibious assault ship USS America, the command ship for Amphibious Squadron 3; USS Pearl Harbor; USS San Diego; USS Lewis B. Puller; Battalion Landing Team 1/5; Aviation Combat Element VMM-161 (Reinforced) and the logistics combat element CLB-15 are participating in the third iteration of this exercise. This is USS America's maiden deployment to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations and the first time USS Puller has participated in a naval exercise as a designated Navy warship.


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