Marine Forward Element Set Up to Help in Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain — Trav­el­ing through the Mid­dle East to con­fer with U.S. allies in the midst of region­al unrest, the top U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer vis­it­ed a new Marine Corps head­quar­ters ele­ment here designed to evac­u­ate non­com­bat­ants or pro­vide human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter response.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, checked in today on the Marine Corps Forces Cen­tral Com­mand For­ward ele­ment at Naval Sup­port Activ­i­ty Bahrain. The head­quar­ters stood up in Novem­ber to bring Marine Corps Forces Cen­tral Com­mand what its oth­er sis­ter ser­vices already have: a for­ward ele­ment with­in the 20-nation Cent­com area of oper­a­tions.

U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, in Bahrain
U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks with U.S. Marines assigned to U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Cen­tral Com­mand, in Bahrain, Feb. 25, 2011.
DOD pho­to by U.S. Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley
Click to enlarge

“Try­ing to con­duct busi­ness from the MARFORCENT head­quar­ters in Tam­pa is a bit dif­fi­cult,” Lt. Col. Mark Duf­fer, the element’s deputy cur­rent oper­a­tions offi­cer, told reporters trav­el­ing with Mullen. “So we want­ed to push some­thing for­ward to the here and now, to what’s hap­pen­ing so we can [cre­ate an] effect right away.”

Gen. Joseph F. Dun­ford, Jr., assis­tant com­man­dant of the Marine Corps, pushed for the new for­ward ele­ment to focus on two pri­ma­ry mis­sions: the­ater secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion and cri­sis man­age­ment. “This was his vision here,” Duf­fer said. “And his vision start­ed a cou­ple of years ago and final­ly came to fruition here.”

MARFORCENT stood up with a staff of 161 Marines, sailors and civil­ian employ­ees work­ing in a tiny facil­i­ty with­in Naval Sup­port Activ­i­ty Bahrain.

The loca­tion proved to be per­fect, oper­a­tional­ly as well as geo­graph­i­cal­ly, Duf­fer said. Home to Naval Forces Cen­tral Com­mand and the U.S. Fifth Fleet, close part­ners in the MARFORCENT mis­sion, it’s sit­u­at­ed smack in the mid­dle of the Cent­com area of oper­a­tions.

“If you put your fin­ger right on the map, on Bahrain, you can see we are very cen­tral­ly locat­ed and [that it’s] a very good loca­tion,” Duf­fer said. “We can … reach out and touch any­body, so we pro­vide that sta­bi­liz­ing force.”

From their new loca­tion, Marines assigned to the ele­ment work to build capa­bil­i­ty with­in region­al mil­i­taries, con­cen­trat­ing more on ground than amphibi­ous forces. “We focus … on the basics of what Marines do: hand-to-hand com­bat and marks­man­ship and oth­er things that are very basic and make up the Marine Corps ethos that we want to pro­vide,” Duf­fer said. The goal, he explained, is to help strength­en region­al allies’ forces so they are bet­ter able to defend their nations and, if need­ed, to pro­vide coali­tion sup­port for future oper­a­tions.

Mean­while, MARFORCENT is now posi­tioned to pro­vide faster response to a region­al cri­sis — par­tic­u­lar­ly non­com­bat­ant evac­u­a­tion oper­a­tions and human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief.

“We are that 9–1-1 force peo­ple can tap into to effi­cient­ly, effec­tive­ly and always get the job done,” Duf­fer said.

As unrest rip­ples through the Mid­dle East, he rec­og­nized the poten­tial for the new ele­ment to be called on to help evac­u­ate civil­ian non­com­bat­ants caught in the vio­lence. “As we stand up this com­mand cen­ter, we have an abil­i­ty to com­mand and con­trol that” at Centcom’s direc­tion, he said. “We can actu­al­ly stand up as a joint task force with coali­tion forces, as well as pro­vide [evac­u­a­tion oper­a­tions] with­in this region.

“We are pre­pared to do that, but have not been asked as of yet,” Duf­fer said.

The more cer­tain require­ment — the only ques­tion being its exact tim­ing and loca­tion — is a rapid human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter response in the event of a cri­sis in the region.

Brig. Gen. Bri­an Beau­dreault, com­man­der of Marine Expe­di­tionary Brigade Bahrain, under­stands that need first­hand. When the for­ward ele­ment stood up last fall, he was on the ground in Pak­istan, com­mand­ing the U.S. joint task force that respond­ed to dev­as­tat­ing floods there.

“This is one of the key tasks that we can be assigned to do, so I think we are very well posi­tioned” to car­ry it out,” Duf­fer said.

Gun­nery Sgt. Adam Doyle, who served with MARFORCENT head­quar­ters in Tam­pa before help­ing form the for­ward ele­ment, said the new loca­tion improves the abil­i­ty to coor­di­nate oper­a­tions, as well as logis­tics. “The com­mand here brings ready access,” he said. “It pro­vides what we need to be more respon­sive.”

As the ele­ment con­tin­ues to take shape, Doyle and his fel­low MARFORCENT Marines are prepar­ing to move next month into a larg­er head­quar­ters being ren­o­vat­ed across the base. Exact­ly how many Marines ulti­mate­ly will join the ele­ment is clas­si­fied, but Duf­fer said he sees devel­op­ments under­way as a sign of MARFORCENT’s long-term com­mit­ment to strength­en­ing part­ner­ships and pro­tect­ing U.S. inter­ests in the region.

“We are build­ing up this com­mand cen­ter for a last­ing, endur­ing mis­sion with­in [Centcom’s] area of respon­si­bil­i­ty,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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