France, US conclude Bois Belleau 100 amphibious cooperation

A French landing craft unit transports U.S. Marine Corps medium tactical vehicle replacement trucks during an amphibious offload with French forces aboard French amphibious assault ship LHD Tonnerre (L9014). Photo: US Marine Corps

US sailors and marines have concluded two months of cooperation with their French counterparts aboard the French Navy amphibious assault ship BPC Tonnerre.

Approximately 150 US personnel spent the last two months working together with the French task group composed of BPC Tonnerre and Horizon-class air defense destroyer FS Chevalier Paul in the US 5th Fleet area of operations.

The deployment, dubbed “Bois Belleau 100”, commemorated the 100th anniversary of the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood, where the US Marine Corps’ 5th and 6th Infantry Regiments fought alongside French forces for a strategic stretch located in France’s Belleau Wood.

One of the first orders issued to the French Amphibious Task Group (ATG) was to participate in Alligator Dagger – TF 51/5’s premier integrated combat proficiency training for subordinate units entering the US Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of responsibility.

Specifically, this bilateral training (held off the coast of Djibouti) enables military forces to hone their skills in amphibious operations, air defense, non-combatant and medical casualty evacuations, replenishment-at-sea, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel as well as combat marksmanship and visit, board, search and seizure evolutions.

The US-French team followed up with a series of exercises throughout the Middle East, aimed at building capacity and capability with regional militaries including Kuwait and United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“The deployment started with amphibious operations in Djibouti during Alligator Dagger and moved to the Arabian Gulf with Alligator Thunder,” said US Marine Maj. Christopher Warnagiris, operations officer for the US landing force command element aboard Tonnerre. “We ended with an exercise in Kuwait during Alligator Lightning, where we employed SPMAGTF-CR-CC to conduct our first tactical use of the MV-22 Osprey aboard a French ship, which entailed deck landings and amphibious raid exercises.”

Warnagiris noted that while there were many firsts during the deployment, the inclusion of a new R2LM team was one of the highlights. Although it was designed to support US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces or allied ships to perform en route emergency care, the R2LM team offered critical care capabilities during the multilateral exercises aboard Tonnerre.

“We successfully integrated with the French medical team and proved that we can conduct maritime operations on a NATO-allied vessel and various medical and amphibious operations,” said Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Magajna, a R2LM emergency medicine physician aboard Tonnerre. “Even though we did business a little differently and experienced a language barrier in the beginning, we managed to work through the challenges quickly.”

“Working with the US Marines and Sailors aboard the Tonnerre was a very good experience,” said French Navy Second Master Marine LePage with the information management cell aboard Tonnerre. “It wasn’t easy at first because of the language barrier, but it was great because we discovered a lot and used the occasion to improve our English and learn from each other. If I have another opportunity, I’d really appreciate working with the US again. The Tonnerre deployment was a great time and it was nice to work with the US.”

The ATG operated in the CENTCOM area of responsibility from November 2017 to February 2018. The Tonnerre’s Air Task Group reported to Commander, US 5th Fleet and was under tactical control of TF 51/5 but also remained flexible to conduct multiple missions simultaneously in support of France’s national tasking operations as required.

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