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Marines make 6,100-mile trans-Pacific flight in Ospreys

The 2016 rotation of the United States Marine Rotational Force - Darwin (MRF-D) has begun to arrive in Darwin. (ABIS Kayla Hayes/Australian Defence Force)

Hawaii-based Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268 recently concluded their deployment to Australia as part of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin with a 6, 100-mile, island-hopping flight home.

Hawaii-based Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268 recently concluded their deployment to Australia as part of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin with a 6, 100-mile, island-hopping flight home.

They left Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory on Sept. 13, with two Marine Corp V-22 Osprey tilt-rotors and one KC-130J refueling aircraft departing for Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley in Queensland. Over the next several days, the Marines would land in Fiji, American Samoa and the Republic of Kiribati before completing the final leg to Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay on Sept. 18.

The pathway of the multiday flight deliberately evoked the history of the Marine Corps’ Pacific campaigns of World War II at a time when the region is increasingly a focus for the military.

“Each stop on the trans-Pacific flight—Australia, Fiji, American Samoa and the Republic of Kiribati—are historically significant in the South Pacific and steeped in Marine Corps lore, ” said Marine spokesperson Capt. Jordan Fox. “The islands served as expeditionary staging bases for the U.S. and its allies in World War II, places that led ultimately, to the lasting peace, prosperity and security present in the region for nearly 80 years.”

The Marine Corps is in the process of returning to its roots at sea after decades of fighting in Afghan mountains and Iraqi deserts. The service has begun restructuring its forces as part of Force Design 2030.

Marine leaders envision a return to the sort of island and coastal operations that defined World War II in the Pacific, with a 21st century twist. They see a future where Marines rely on anti-ship missiles, drones, cyberwarfare and other new technology as they wreak havoc on enemy naval forces from island and coastal fighting positions.

As part of the restructuring of Marine forces, the serv ­ice removed all of its traditional helicopters in Hawaii and has increasingly put emphasis on tilt-rotor Ospreys, which have the characteristics of both planes and helicopters and can fly much farther distances. The Corps also wants to station more KC-130J refuelers at Kane ­ohe to support the Osprey flights.

“MV-22s, coupled with KC-130s, provide unparalleled mobility at the tactical level, ” said Marine Aircraft Group 24 commander Col. Manlee Herrington in a news release. “With these aircraft, MAG-24 can put Marines and equipment anywhere in the Pacific.”

However, plans for new facilities to support the shift have been controversial. The Marine Corps’ current plan calls for the demolition of historic hangers at MCBH that were involved in the Dec. 7th, 1941 attack on Oahu by the Japanese Imperial Navy. The plan has prompted criticism from many historians and preservation groups.

The Marine Corps is remaking itself amid a backdrop of simmering tensions in the Pacific as the U.S. and its allies are locked in an uneasy standoff with China.

For some Marines, the trans-Pacific journey was personal. In American Samoa, Sgt. Tyrone Travers, a native of the island, saw his sister in person for the first time in six years, according to the Marines’ news release.

Herrington met with veterans from the U.S. territory, which has one of the highest rates of military service of anywhere in the United States.

In Kiribati, the Marines delivered humanitarian aid, including masks, medicine and water for a local hospital and sports equipment and toys donated to families and children.

Kiribati has been dealing with severe drought this year. Hawaii-based Coast Guard cutters have also delivered supplies to the drought-stricken island nation.

Kiribati, an island nation of 119, 000 about 2, 400 miles south of Hawaii, in recent years has become the site of geopolitical competition as Chinese influence has grown.

In 2019, Kiribati President Taneti Maamau severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan and signed onto China’s Belt and Road initiative, a network of Beijing-funded infrastructure projects.

Among the planned projects is the renovation of a former U.S. military airfield from World War II. Some analysts charge that China’s plans for Kiribati are “dual use “—supporting both civilian and military endeavors—but Chinese and Kiribati officials insist plans are purely geared toward infrastructure and business.

The move proved divisive in Kiribati with members of the political opposition charging that Beijing bought off Maamau with bribes.

In January, Japanese media reported that Japan intends to open a new embassy in Kiribati later this year, and in July during a virtual address to the Pacific Islands Forum, Vice President Kamala Harris announced new investments in the Pacific, including a new embassy in Kiribati.

This is the second time this year that Ospreys from Marine Aircraft Group 24 transited the Pacific. Earlier this year, Ospreys flew approximately 5, 000 miles from Hawaii to the Philippines for Exercise Balikatan 22.


(c) 2022 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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