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Marines wrap up Big Island phase of multinational RIMPAC drills

RIMPAC 2018 - Tongan Marines sing on training field. (Stars and Stripes/YouTube)
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A multinational amphibious force is preparing to leave the wind-swept lava fields of Hawaii’s Big Island and board ships for the next phase of the Rim of the Pacific exercise.

Twenty-five nations, more than 45 surface ships and submarines, 17 national land forces, 200-plus aircraft and 25,000 personnel are involved in the drills, which are scheduled to run through Aug. 2 in Hawaii and Southern California.

Brig. Gen. Mark Hashimoto, the senior Marine at RIMPAC, said Wednesday that Big Island training involving 2,000 troops has improved communication with partner nations. Each company from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment has trained with two or three other nations’ amphibious forces.

“We learn as much from them as they do from us,” he said, stressing the other forces’ counterterrorism experience.

Six other marine corps and four other countries whose soldiers routinely operate aboard ship are involved in the drills, Hashimoto added.

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The Philippine Marine Corps, which is used to fighting Islamic insurgents, is participating for the first time. So is the Sri Lankan Marine Corps, which was formed in February 2017, he said.

“These partner nations are here not because they are invited but because they want to be here,” Hashimoto said.

Philippine Marine Master Sgt. Rambla Bale said the weather in Hawaii is cooler than he’s used to.

“We’re exchanging ideas … we’re conversing about family and food,” he said of the training.

On Thursday, Indonesian Marine Capt. Yeyen Tuhardj and his buddies fired their 105mm artillery alongside U.S. M777 Howitzers as helicopters buzzed overhead in an air and ground artillery attack.

“This is the first time we’ve shot over here — I’m really happy,” he said. “I hope at the next RIMPAC my artillery gun is shooting here again.”

When they weren’t training, Tongan troops sang songs and Filipinos cooked traditional food. A spontaneous arm wrestling match sprang up between four nations after Sunday’s field dinner.

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By Friday, the Marines were preparing to leave their base camp 6,300 feet above sea level and board ships from Task Force 176 commanded by Australian commodore Ivan Ingham. At sea, they’ll get ready for an amphibious invasion of nearby Oahu and an air assault of Kauai by the end of the month.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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