COVENAS, Colombia (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines assigned to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) South debarked the future USS America (LHA 6) to begin a three-day bilateral exercise with Colombian Marines, at the International Center for Amphibious Training located in Covenas, Colombia July 16.
Unlike other ships making their maiden voyage, the amphibious assault ship America embarked Marine units to immediately begin amphibious operations.
After only five days at sea, America sent 39 Marines to the flight deck to embark two MV-22 Osprey, assigned to the "Spartans" of Marine Operational and Test Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 22, beginning their transit to Covenas, Colombia to participate in training evolutions with the Colombian marine corps, or Infanteria de Marina de Colombia.
The engagement provided an opportunity for information exchanges and training with the partner nation of Colombia, enhancing interoperability and building on a partnership that fosters regional security in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility.
"The main purpose for the visit was to continue to develop the relationship between the Infanteria De Marina and the U.S. Marine Corps," said Marine Capt. Blaine Barby, SPMAGTF South ground combat element commander. "The Colombians have a significant marine corps, and Colombia is a significant partner in our counter-narcotic operations. It is absolutely critical that we maintain a good relationship between our [militaries]."
The U.S. Marine element split into four groups during the training, which encompassed information exchanges in medical combat casualties, improvised explosive devices (IED), hand-to-hand combat, and live-fire, small arms weapons shoots.
Simultaneously, training began in all four areas. According to Colombian Lt. Col. Juan Camilo Franco Palacios, commander of the International Center of Amphibious Training, the IED information exchange was one of the most important stations and said with the war in Afghanistan drawing down, Colombia has become the highest area of IED concentration in the world.
Colombia is currently at war with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), a terrorist organization funded by kidnapping for ransom, illegal mining, extortion, and the production and distribution of illegal drugs. The two have been at war for 50 years.
Palacios and his team began the information exchange by conveying their problems, showing the various types of IEDs they encountered and discussing the FARC's tactics.
"The Colombian IED problem is very significant," said Barby. "I think one of their biggest problems is the lack of IED personnel overall. All of their marines are cross-trained on counter-IED tactics, but the country is big. It's a thick jungle, and they can't always get IED technicians to the site of an IED. So, often times when they find one, they are forced to detonate it and are unable to gather any information on it."
After listening and evaluating the Colombian marines' experiences, the U.S. Marines discussed the tactics they encountered in Afghanistan and offered procedures to help counteract threats the Colombians' face.
"One of the things that we brought to the table is expressing to them the importance of rendering the IED safe and learning from it. They understand the importance of it, but sometimes the actual application of implementing those procedures is the most challenging part," said Barby.
America is currently traveling through the U.S. Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet area of responsibility on her maiden transit, "America Visits the Americas". America is the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships. As the next generation "big-deck" amphibious assault ship, America is optimized for aviation, capable of supporting current and future aircraft such as the MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strik Fighter. The ship is scheduled to be ceremoniously commissioned Oct. 11 in San Francisco.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command / U.S. 4th Fleet and U.S. Marine Forces South support U.S. Southern Command's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.