By: Marine Cpl. Christopher O'Quin
GULF OF ADEN - In the early 1800's, during the First Barbary War, 1st Lt. Presley O'Bannon took a contingent of U.S. Marines and mercenaries to fight pirates who killed Sailors and captured merchant vessels near the shores of Tripoli, earning a place in Marine Corps lore. Now more than 200 years later, the threat of piracy has resurfaced in the Gulf of Aden, threatening the free and safe use of the shipping lanes sailed by mariners. Over the past few years, Marines and Sailors have been working to counter the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. In 2009, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)/Boxer Amphibious Ready Group supported the rescue of Richard Phillips, captain of the merchant vessel Maersk Alabama, who was taken hostage by four pirates. A year later, the 15th MEU/Peleliu ARG recaptured the merchant vessel, Magellan Star, from nine pirates and rescued its 11 crewmembers. Now in 2011, 13th MEU has returned to the region to support maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts with a Maritime Raid Force (MRF). The MRF is a team of Marines and Sailors trained to conduct maritime interdiction operations including visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) and Gas and Oil Platform (GOPLAT) seizures. Marines and Sailors within the MRF have diverse skill sets and occupations that enhance and strengthen its capabilities. This diverse team trained for many months before 13th MEU left San Diego harbor. Some MRF elements began independent training as early as July 2010, consisting of close quarters marksmanship, dynamic entry (breaching), and urban sniper marksmanship. In September, I Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group evaluated 13th MEU MRF as they completed exercises onboard Camp Pendleton. This provided the units within the MRF an opportunity to develop working relationships and operating procedures. Realistic Urban Training at Port Hueneme and Point Mugu in Ventura County, Calif., incorporated MEU aviation assets as the MRF worked toward conducting full-mission-profile VBSS and GOPLAT operations. The MRF continued to train together during four successive MEU at-sea periods, conducting additional VBSS, GOPLAT, and precision raid profiles leading up to deployment in mid-February. "We built this capability at the request of Geographic Combatant Commanders," said Lt. Col. Vincent Lumalcuri, commanding officer of MRF and executive officer of 13th MEU. "This was a request that came out back in 2009. They wanted a level four VBSS capability out of the MEU's who deployed as theater CENTCOM reserve. The Navy and Marine Corps put together the concept to restart a MRF capability with MEU's. During their deployment the MRF constantly trains and readies themselves for the moment they need to take action against threats. "Every week we train with close quarters combat marksmanship, room clearing and we are often studying in the classroom," said Lance Cpl. Adam A. Duerschmidt, a rifleman with the MRF. "We have to constantly train. It's one thing to clear buildings with only a few rooms but it's something entirely different clearing a massive structure where you can't see beyond 30 meters. We are always in a state of alert, ready to respond at short notice so we can hit quick and hard." 13th MEU is deployed with Boxer Amphibious Ready Group for theater security cooperation, maritime security operations and serves as the USCENTCOMtheater reserve force.