RIM OF THE PACIFIC NAVAL WAR GAMES
GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The amphibious helicopter assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard spent most of this week steaming near Niihau (in the background) and Kauai for the summer's Rim of the Pacific naval war games. CLICK FOR LARGE
Training role for isles seen
A Kaneohe Marine leader cites a planned expansion on Guam
By Gregg K. Kakesako
SEVENTEEN MILES SOUTH OF KAUAI » A Kaneohe Marine leader says he hopes more troops, C-130 cargo planes and even a high-speed transportation vessel will be stationed here, because of a decision to relocate 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
Col. Greg Boyle, who commands three battalions belonging to the 3rd Marine Regiment at Kaneohe, acknowledges nothing has been decided at this point except that 8,000 of the 15,000 Marines will be sent to Guam over the next decade.
But Boyle said the Marines could make better use of the Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island, with possible assignment of a detachment of C-130 cargo planes or even relocation of the high-speed vessel transport from Okinawa.
BY THE NUMBERS
Nations: Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, South Korea, United States, United Kingdom
"Pohakuloa is a great place to train," said Boyle, 47. "The problem is that we can't get there very often."
The Marines have to rely on commercial or Army transport to move troops and equipment to Kauai and the Big Island for training.
For the next few weeks, Boyle has moved his headquarters from Kaneohe Bay to the decks of the 844-foot amphibious helicopter assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard for the summer Rim of the Pacific naval war games.
More than 400 Kaneohe Marines and eight CH-53D Sea Stallions from Oahu will join an additional 600 Marines from 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, from Camp Pendleton in Southern California to sharpen their infantry skills -- from helicopter assault raids to beach landings at Kaneohe Bay and Waimanalo.
Boyle, who has completed a combat tour in Afghanistan, said his 1st Battalion in May was the last Marine unit to serve in the three-year war there. The Kaneohe Marines, stationed in northeastern Afghanistan, turned the area over to the Army.
"We have phased out the Marine presence in Afghanistan," said Boyle, "and we are moving into Iraq. I don't think we will ever be out of there, but eventually NATO will assume a larger control."
Boyle added that the United States needs to get away from cordon searches and "dropping the bombs" to "winning the hearts and minds of the people. That's what we are doing with counterinsurgency operations."
"Let the Iraqis and Afghans handle the situation," he added. "It is their country."
That's what is being practiced during RIMPAC, Boyle said, along with working with Pacific Rim countries on problems such as regional maritime threats.
He estimated that at least 50 percent of his three battalions had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. But many Marines are new, like Cpl. Chase Davison, a radio operator with Kaneohe Bay's Combat Service Support Group. Davison has been a Marine for 1 1/2 years and is going to sea for the first time.
"I want to get used to ship life," said Davison, 20. "Learn to work with my equipment and train my Marines."
For other young Marines, like Cpl. Daniel Gorhman, living with more than 1,000 Marines and the USS Bonhomme Richard's crew of 1,200 takes a while to get used to. In some of the berthing areas, there are 40 Marines or sailors bunking together.
Gorhman, 19, said he could not believe how many lines he has to stand in.
"It's crazy," said the radio operator, who has been in the Marine Corps for almost a year. "The chow lines are long, very long."
Davison said sometimes it takes 50 minutes to get served.
The Marine forces Boyle commands for this summer's naval war games were scaled down, because the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, just returned from an Iraq combat tour and are preparing for a seven-month deployment to Okinawa.
Capt. Stephen Greene, who commands the eight-year-old Bonhomme Richard, said his vessel normally carries about 1,300 Marines and over two dozen helicopters: four CH-53 E Super Stallions, 12 CH-46 Sea Knights, four AH-1W Super Cobras, three UH-1 Hueys and two MH-60 Knighthawks, plus six AV/8 Harrier combat jets. Its flight deck, the length of 2 1/2 football fields, can operate up to nine helicopters simultaneously.
"Our job is to move Marines," said Greene.
The Bonhomme Richard carries three 88-foot-long landing crafts propelled by four gas turbine engines that travel 45 mph on a cushion of air. Each of these LCACs can carry one M-1 Abrams tank and two amphibious assault vehicles with 25 Marines each, or 100 Marines alone.
During its last western Pacific deployment two years ago, the USS Bonhomme Richard delivered more than 2.1 million pounds of humanitarian relief to Indonesian tsunami victims, then transported the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit to Kuwait.
For RIMPAC, the Bonhomme Richard and the amphibious dock ship USS Rushmore, under the command of Capt. Jonathan Picker, are working just south of Kauai with three destroyers and one diesel submarine from Japan.
Also assigned to Picker during a special mine-sweeping exercise will be the amphibious dock ship USS Denver.
"Keeping the sea lanes open so our amphibious assault ships can move is crucial," Picker said.
RIMPAC 2006 HIGHLIGHTS
July 10-13 » Evacuation of refugees from Kauai's Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility
July 16 » Marines from Kaneohe and California participate in a helicopter assault raid at Dillingham Airfield
» Rescue of a downed pilot and aircraft at Dillingham.
July 18 » Amphibious raid by Kaneohe and California Marines at Pyramid Rock in Kaneohe Bay
July 22 » Amphibious assault by Marines at Bellows Air Force Station and Pyramid Rock
» Air assault raids by Marines at Schofield Barracks