SHIROKYI LAN TRAINING RANGE, Ukraine – More than 300 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors arrived here July 6 to participate in the multinational maritime exercise Sea Breeze 07.
The exercise is in its tenth year and focuses on strengthening partnerships and fostering maritime safety and security capabilities to conduct peacekeeping operations in the Black Sea region. With 13 nations participating on land and at sea, the U.S. forces here focused on ground training with service members from Moldova, Macedonia, Georgia, Armenia Germany and the Ukraine, the host of the exercise.
Conducting staff planning, various weapons and infantry training; and non lethal weapons training the militaries familiarized with each others equipment, techniques and procedures.
“We have two missions here; to assist our coalition partners to be more capable of interacting with NATO forces and secondly, sustainment training for the Marines,” said Lieutenant Col. Gregory D. McManus, commanding officer, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment based in Los Alamitos, Calif. “We are scheduled to go back to Iraq and there is specific training we need to accomplish.”
Recent operations such as those in Afghanistan and Kosovo have been conducted through a coalition of militaries. During the ground portion of Sea Breeze all the planning and execution of military actions are done as a coalition.
“Coalition operations are the nature of the way things are going to be,” McManus said. “In exercises like this we can identify our weaknesses and strengths and work with them (the other countries) from top to bottom.”
As the higher levels of staff conduct planning, small unit level training also takes place. There is the opportunity to get familiar with weapon systems organic to each of the participating countries as well as learning about new technologies and tactics like non lethal weapons.
“We are seeing more and more situations where non lethal weapons have a purpose, such as the (Non combatant Evacuation Operation) with Joint Task Force Lebanon and the training of KFOR forces conducting peace keeping in Kosovo,” said Captain Roberto Rodriguez, non lethal weapons instructor, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Europe. “It is only natural we involve our allies in this type of training.”
“Exercises like this are good because of the joint and multinational participation,” said Gregory Lamp, training advisor, 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command, Grafenwoehr, Germany. “It is a great opportunity to share knowledge and experiences of other services and militaries. When you involve the non lethal weapons you are enhancing the force concept which is important for troops to know and it saves lives.”
The battalion’s Marines have conducted numerous exercises abroad such as African Lion in Morocco and Baltic Sea Operations out of Poland, but Sea Breeze is a little different.
“At Sea Breeze we have a lot closer interaction as a company with the other country’s militaries,” said Lance Cpl. Steven M. Duran, field radio operator, G Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment. “It is great seeing the different cultures and how they react to us and it is really interesting to see how our weapons and technology compares to theirs.”
Similar feelings are also expressed by the other countries militaries.
“I am very happy to be part of the exercise here and gladly welcome working with the other countries,” said Georgian Corporal Andranik Kirakosian, Georgian 22nd Battalion, through an interpreter.
Due to the language differences interpreters played an important role at all levels of planning, training and ensuring safety during live-fire exercises. Petty Officer 3rd Class Anna Zakharova, a hospital corpsman and translator for the exercise, was born in the Ukraine and moved to the United States in 2003. The exercise gave her the opportunity to travel back here with plans to visit family here.
“I have not seen my family for two-and-a half years,” said Zakharova. “It is really hard not to have your family around. My aunt and my dad are planning to come see me if we get liberty.”
For others exercise Sea Breeze 07 provided a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“This is my first exercise outside the United States and it was my first time on a plane,” said Lance Cpl. Sergio M. Martinez, field radio operator, G Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment. “It has been ‘over the top’ for me. If it weren’t for this exercise I would never had been here in my life.”
After building relationships and learning about, and from, their allied counterparts the service members will return home upon completion of the exercise July 22.