NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. --
More than 100 Marines of Marine Attack Squadrons 223 and 542 bussed out from the Cherry Point theater May 15, in route to Norfolk, Va. to embark HMS Ark Royal, a British Royal Navy aircraft carrier, to conduct Capella Strike, a two-week multinational training exercise with British counterparts.
Today, England and the United States stand as a strong alliance, evident in Afghanistan, where Marines and British service members fight as one, side by side.
“We go back a long way,” said Petty Officer Paddy Ashe, the hangar manager for the HMS Ark Royal, as he spoke to a hangar full of Marines. “We’ve got a long history together, and we’re together in Afghanistan.”
There are 12 Marine aircraft aboard the HMS Ark Royal for the training exercise.
“This is the biggest unit we’ve had aboard the HMS Ark Royal,” said Lt. Dave Ellis, the deputy engineer officer for the HMS Ark Royal.
For Marines that usually work in hangars, the bumpy waters of the Atlantic against the hull of a foreign ship may bring new challenges.
“The Marines are going to take a crawl-walk-jog approach to this exercise,” said Chief Warrant Officer Thomas E. Rhame, the maintenance/material control officer for Marine Attack Squadron 542.
Days one and two consisted of a series of briefs and ship tours, done my BRN Sailors, to help increase familiarity.
The ship set sail early morning May 18, and the Marines started their training right away.
As they left the port, the Marines and BRN Sailors performed a crash drill. This gave the Marines a chance to prove to the British that they know how to use their ship, and allowed the British to evaluate the overall drill, said Rhame.
Throughout the whole exercise safety is paramount, said Rhame. The British counterparts agree it shouldn’t be compromised throughout the exercise, Rhame added.
“We’re going to work together, and hopefully one day we won’t have to do it for real,” said Ashe.
Planning for this exercise consisted of a gradual build-up.
Rhame explained that in April, he, along with members of VMA-223 and 542, had a video teleconference with HMS Ark Royal crewmembers to discuss logistics and what each could provide for one another.
Prior similar exercises also helped the squadrons plan Capella Strike. For some Marines, this won’t be their first time training with the Royal Navy.
“Last time, we met a lot of good guys on the British ship, and I hope to have that same experience,” said Cpl. Keith R. Turner, a Harrier mechanic with VMA-223.
Teamwork is key when it comes to the success of this coalition exercise, said Rhame.
The chief warrant officer wants to prepare the Marines for future coalition operations. “We want to be able to roll in knowing what these guys can do, and they’ll know what we can do.”
The Cherry Point Marines are scheduled to return to the air station May 29, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.