SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
U.S. Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) Peru set foot on home soil in San Diego, Dec. 21, 2018, eager to reunite with loved ones for the holidays after a six-week deployment to South America.
SPMAGTF-Peru set sail aboard the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25) on Nov. 12 from San Diego after forming as a team just two months prior. The Marines spearheaded their deployment with a humanitarian assistance, disaster relief (HA/DR) exercise Nov. 24, 2018, at Chorrillos Beach, Lima Province, Peru, alongside partners from the Peruvian Navy and 17 local health and municipal organizations. Titled “Olas Solidarias,” or Waves of Solidarity, the exercise simulated a flood scenario reminiscent of the real-world flooding that occurred in Peru in 2017. The exercise incorporated role players who served as community members in need of assistance following the simulated flood.
To kick off the exercise, Marines and Sailors conducted ship-to-shore movements by both air and sea, linking up with local personnel on the ground to facilitate the movement of critical supplies.
SPMAGTF-Peru has a multitude of capabilities outside of warfighting that are useful in a time of crisis. In the case of a HA/DR mission, SPMAGTF-Peru has the ability to provide services such as water purification, road clearance via heavy equipment, electricity generation, and helicopter transport to penetrate into affected areas to render aid as quickly as possible.
Working alongside Peruvian personnel, the Marines and Sailors of SPMAGTF-Peru reaffirmed the United States’ HA/DR capabilities and commitment to its partners. In addition to the HA/DR exercise, the Marines conducted amphibious planning and two weeks of training with the Peruvian Naval Infantry in Ancon, Peru, all in an effort to expand mutual capabilities and exchange best practices.
SPMAGTF-Peru is part of U.S. Southern Command’s Enduring Promise Initiative, and reflects the United States’ commitment to friendship and solidarity with South America.
“It’s not just about showing other countries what we can do for them, but rather about what we can achieve together,” said Sgt. Maj. Curtis A. Rice, sergeant major, SPMAGTF-Peru. “For these Marines to go into country on day one and to show them how well we can work together without rehearsals—it is just remarkable.”
Concurrent with the training in Peru, a select group of Marines and Sailors had the opportunity to participate in EXPONAVAL with the USS Somerset in Valparaiso, Chile, for the Chilean Navy’s bicentennial. EXPONAVAL is a major international naval and maritime exhibition for Latin America sponsored by the Chilean Ministry of Defense and the Chilean Navy. While in Chile, Marines and Sailors participated in cultural exchanges with Chilean forces, which included field meets and static displays showcasing Marine Corps equipment and aircraft.
While Marine units typically deploy on scheduled rotations, completing several months of pre-deployment training, SPMAGTF-Peru successfully met the mission with a fraction of the preparation time, showcasing the superior ability of the Navy-Marine Corps team to rapidly deploy to areas in urgent need of assistance.
“Never in my 24 years in the Marine Corps have I seen a team come together in such a short time and attain the results this team achieved,” said Rice. “I am extremely proud of each and every one of the Marines.”
While preparing to deploy on a compressed timeline demands more from each Marine, it also creates a more realistic training environment to ensure the Marines are ready when disaster strikes.
“The importance of the short notification to deployment window is that it’s a testament to the Marine Corps’ readiness and our commitment to our country and our ability to go forward and defend our country’s interests anywhere around the world,” said Lt. Col. Francisco X. Zavala, commanding officer, SPMAGTF-Peru. “It’s also an important statement to our partners and allies around the world; it shows that we have the capability to honor our commitments.”
As the Marines and Sailors disembarked the USS Somerset on Dec. 21 – many carrying along patches and t-shirts given to them by their Peruvian counterparts – they left confident in a job well done. Arriving home to families during the holiday season served as an added bonus.
“One of the things that makes me very proud as a commander is being given the opportunity to see the Marines at their finest moments. It’s when we work as hard as we can and as a result of our human spirit and absolute willpower, we can achieve things that most people would say cannot be done,” said Zavala. “It’s on the back of our collective sense of purpose and determination that we accomplished this mission and returned home to spend time with our families for the holidays.”