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Land the landing force: Alligator Dagger begins

April 04, 2018

A subtle tension hangs in the air on these kind of mornings. Excitement, nerves, and concentration coalesce within the skin of the ship, waiting to spill out into the skies and seas.

The cause: the Landing Force. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit goes ashore today to train. U.S. Marines, twice their regular size with a combat load, walk through the narrow passageways of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) to a holding position in the hangar bay.

The hangar bay is loud. The aircraft above it, the landing craft below it, are loud. The Marines are loud. Everything is loud. 

After weeks of planning and preparation, it’s game time. But it’s not a game, it’s a combat rehearsal. Alligator Dagger, a training opportunity for this forward-deployed force in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, is underway.

Marines live for this stuff. They embarked on naval amphibious shipping two months ago, eagerly anticipating their next steps on solid ground. Each time they get to do so, it’s a welcome, sweaty, exhausting reminder of what they signed up to do. 

The weeks of planning sessions, wargaming, refinement, and rehearsals are all critical to getting to execution. But for the infantrymen, the engineers, the communicators, it gets real when the stern gate drops and the flight deck opens.

In the well deck, Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 26 load trucks and equipment onto a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) operated by U.S. Navy Sailors of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group.

On the flight deck, Company E, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (BLT 2/6), is loaded down with flaks, kevlars, packs, and weapons, on a steep ramp, standing by to file into the MV-22B Ospreys and CH-53E Super Stallions that will insert them ashore.

The destination: Arta Range Complex, Djibouti, Africa. This austere terrain will serve as the backdrop for a week of training in critical mission sets, enhancing the MEU’s posture as a versatile, capable and ready force.

They will train across the range of military operations, from live-fire ranges for small arms, mortars, artillery, and tanks, to Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel, to airborne operations, to convoy operations, to Improvised Explosive Device scenario training. 

Expeditionary sustainment will support the troops and training ashore. The Logistics Combat Element will purify, store and distribute water. The Aviation Combat Element will conduct Aerial Delivered Ground Refueling.

Alligator Dagger is underway, and the subtle tension of a dynamic morning aboard the Iwo Jima is backfilled with a keen focus on supporting the force ashore as Marines go do what they do best.

The objective: a flexible, adaptable, and persistent force, the 26th MEU lives its motto, “a certain force in an uncertain world.”