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Corps' new Australia tours to start in April

Mar. 19, 2012 - 07:50PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 19, 2012 - 07:50PM  |  
Marines train Nov. 24 at Robertson Barracks in Darwin, Australia. About 150 members of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, will soon arrive in Darwin.
Marines train Nov. 24 at Robertson Barracks in Darwin, Australia. About 150 members of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, will soon arrive in Darwin. (Sgt. Pete Thibodeau / Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps will send a Hawaii-based infantry unit to Australia in April, marking the first rotation there for U.S. forces as part of a new military partnership between the longtime allies.

Members of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, will arrive at Robertson Barracks in Darwin within the next few weeks, a Marine official in Washington told Marine Corps Times. The unit, based in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, will include up to 200 personnel. They will accompany the entire battalion to Okinawa, Japan, before breaking off and heading on to Australia, the official said on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of U.S troop movement through Japan.

"This is the building of the Australia MAGTF rotational deployments," the Marine official said, referencing the plan announced by President Obama in November to establish a Marine air-ground task force that will cycle through Australia's Northern Territory for six months at a time. By 2016, this company-sized force will grow to about 2,500 Marines, officials have said.

Home to the Australian Army's 1st Brigade, Darwin is a city of about 80,000 located along the Timor Sea. Marines will spend several months at the nearby Bradshaw and Mount Bundy training ranges, which feature live-fire and maneuver areas, according to a report published Monday in the Australian, a national daily newspaper.

The agreement with Australia calls for U.S. access to other training space as well, along with airfields and ports that can accommodate U.S. aircraft and naval vessels.

Fox Company's Australia tour coincides with the Marine Corps' renewed focus on the Pacific and a plan announced last week to restart regular six-month unit rotations to Okinawa and mainland Japan. Known as the Unit Deployment Program, or UDP, these tours were routine for Marine infantry and aviation units based in the continental U.S. and Hawaii, but they slowed significantly starting in 2005 as forces were diverted to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's unclear what's in store for the rest of the Hawaii battalion during its UDP tour. However, as part of this program, rotating units often participate in exercises around Asia and the South Pacific. A handful of engagements are scheduled during the coming months, including Exercise Balikatan in the Philippines.

The U.S. and Japanese governments are working to reduce the Marine Corps' permanent footprint in Okinawa by about 8,000 personnel. Plans call for shifting those troops to Guam, Hawaii and other areas around the Pacific.

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