CORAL SEA - Sailors assigned to the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) in partnership with Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conducted a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) training evolution aboard USNS Wally Schirra (T-AKE 8) Aug. 13.
"VBSS operations are another way in which we keep sea lanes open and safe for the flow of commercial traffic," said Lt. Bradford Tonder, operations officer for Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11. "These operations aid in deterring and preventing illegal activity on the high seas."
VBSS operations emerged after the initial Gulf War as a measure to support continued maritime interdiction operations imposed by United Nations resolutions and to deter illegal activity. They are conducted by sending boarding teams to search a vessel of interest via rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) or helicopter. If the vessel is deemed to be conducting illegal activities, the boarding team can secure the vessel and crew if required.
Today's VBSS training covers areas such as tactical team movements, self-defense tactics, boarding tactics, and climbing and repelling techniques.
"In this part of the world, it's one of the biggest things we focus on. There are a lot of cargo ships and they're at high risk of being taken over by pirates. It's our job to be ready to repel that threat," said Cpl. Corey Thomas, infantry squad leader.
The VBSS training exercise was conducted as part of the 31st MEU's certification exercise (CERTEX). Due to the exercise framework, less than 48 hours notice was given to Bonhomme Richard, Denver and the 31st MEU to begin planning the boarding and seizure operation.
"Although we had only 48 hours from notice of the mission to execution... [it] required the same extensive and detailed planning to execute as the VBSS operations Navy ships routinely conduct," said Tonder.
VBSS operations require intricate pre-planning and execution as well as high-level integration between Navy and Marine on-scene leadership. The Marine Corps' elite VBSS force is the Maritime Raid Force (MRF). The MRF is vital to the Blue/Green team and uses the full spectrum of ARG/MEU support resources such as aircraft and small boats in order to successfully execute a particular mission.
"This operation was very successful," said Tonder. "This was the first time this particular Blue/Green team conducted this type of operation together. The team gelled quickly and planned and executed a safe and coordinated mission involving numerous air platforms originating from both Bonhomme Richard and Denver."
Thomas echoed that sentiment saying, "A lot goes into an operation like this, a lot of coordination with different elements. Whether it's the Aviation Combat Element (ACE), the Navy side, or Marine Force Recon team, I think the operation went extremely smoothly. There are always things to improve and tighten up in any mission, but overall I feel like things went extremely well."
Bonhomme Richard is the flagship of the Bonhomme Richard ARG, commanded by Capt. Cathal O'Connor, commodore, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11 and reports to the Commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley, headquartered in White Beach, Okinawa, Japan.