Marines patrol during a training event this past summer in Australia. (Sgt. Sarah Fiocco/Marine Corps)
Deployments to Australia as part of the Marine Corps’ new rotational force are still a novel experience. Only about 400 Marines have done one.
Members of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, returned to Hawaii in late-September after spending six months in the Australian Outback, New Zealand and the Kingdom of Tonga. As Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, they were led by Capt. Raymond L’heureux, who said his Marines accomplished a lot while partnering with the Australians.
Marine Corps Times caught up with L’heureux to gather his insights from the deployment. Excerpts, edited for space and clarity:
Q. What sorts of skills did you swap with the Australians?
A. They’re very good at patrolling. It was good to see because the Marine Corps has done that in the past, but has been focusing on other things since Afghanistan and Iraq. The Marines were able to pick up on it very quickly. And during our final exercise, the Australians were able to ride in an MV-22 Osprey and do an air assault, so they were really interested in doing that.
Q. What were some of the challenges you had to overcome?
A. The distance from our support was probably the greatest challenge. Being in Australia, things were going to take time to reach us from either Hawaii or Okinawa. But everyone wanted to see us be successful out there, so there was help if we needed it.
Q. Did you run into any problems due to the climate or terrain?
The Northern Territory is very unique in that they don’t really have seasons. They have two really, the dry season or the wet season. When we got there, it was towards the end of the wet season, so it was very hot and humid — a lot different than Hawaii. Once it gets into the dry season, it’s mild and the weather is actually very pleasant. The terrain is very similar to Twentynine Palms, Calif., so nothing the Marines hadn’t seen before.
Q. Was there any dangerous wildlife you guys had to look out for?
A. That’s one of the most interesting aspects out there. We don’t really have snakes in Hawaii, so it was weird not only going somewhere where you had to worry about snakes, but also some of the most poisonous in the world. And then crocodiles are a real danger near the water. You read in the newspaper weekly about a dog or person getting snatched up by a crocodile.
Q. What kinds of deployments did you guys go out on?
A. When we first got there, I sent one platoon out to New Zealand to do a month-long training exercise with their defense force. Later, the company as a whole went out to Shoalwater Bay to support Talisman Saber. Toward the end of the deployment, I sent another platoon to Tonga to support an exercise, and at the same time, the rest of the company went down to the Bradshaw Training Area, which is about an eight-hour drive from Darwin.
Q. What was the living situation like in Darwin?
A. We were quartered on Robertson Barracks, which is home to the Australian Army’s 1st Brigade. They have barracks for staff noncommissioned officers and officers, as well as enlisted Marines. Marines lived two to a room while officers and staff NCOs were one-man to a room. It was a typical setup with a bedroom and bathroom — similar to being on a Marine Corps base.
Q. What’s some of the logistical support you think will come in handy once the number of Marines heads up to a full MAGTF?
They’re not going to be reaching a full MAGTF for a long time, but I know they’re planning to bring a bunch of logistics enablers with them on the next go-around that can help them out and support their training. I think it’s just going to grow step-by-step as it progresses to the eventual full MAGTF.
Q. What were some of the things Marines did on liberty time?
A. Marines would go out to Darwin, which is a little port town about 30 minutes away. The Northern Territory is a little rustic, so there were rodeos the Marines would go to and car races. We were near two national parks, so Marines would go hiking. And there are saltwater crocodile tours, too, so Marines checked out the big crocs.
Q. Did you eat any adventurous meals when you were out there?
A. Most of the Marines tried crocodile and kangaroo. We consider them adventurous because we don’t have them in America, but you can go buy it in a supermarket there in Australia. And it wasn’t bad — crocodile kind of tastes like chicken, and the kangaroo tastes like beef, but a little gamier.
Q. Marines in Okinawa are often reminded about being good diplomats in Japan. Did you have similar talks with your Marines about their behavior in Australia?
A. Yes, wherever Marines go, you’re always going to tell them their actions can have ripple effects, good and bad. We were constantly reminding them to be good stewards, and we really didn’t have any incidents. We interacted with Australians all the time. They were friendly and accommodating to my Marines.
Q. What’s your advice for other COs heading to the Darwin rotation?
A. Leverage all the assets you have to go out and train in the training areas. And enjoy your time with the Australians because they’re more than willing to help out.■