WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2011 — Fleet Week-San Francisco is more than just a chance for liberty in a world-class city, it’s also an opportunity for Marines to practice their disaster-response capabilities, said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Melvin G. Spiese, the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
Spiese’s Camp Pendleton, Calif.,-based unit will practice providing disaster response and humanitarian aid as part of Fleet Week activities Oct. 6 to 11.
In September, the brigade will board the ships of the Expeditionary Strike Group 3 to take part in Exercise Dawn Blitz. “It will be a largely amphibious and conventional war scenario, where we’ll be working landing plans and projecting power ashore,” Spiese said in a recent interview.
“We will transition from that into San Francisco Fleet Week,” he said. “The 1st MEB’s flag will sail north and we will be the headquarters running all the Marines who are participating in Fleet Week.”
The city has been using Fleet Week to exercise military support to civil authority in the event of a national disaster.
San Francisco is on a peninsula right along the San Andreas Fault. The entire area is earthquake country.
“I think a significant earthquake in San Francisco could be catastrophic,” Spiese said. “The road networks could become easily problematic as well as significant infrastructure problems. The ability to pull people out is going to be difficult.”
Getting help downtown will be a problem — a problem the Marines could help with using their amphibious capabilities. “We’re unique in that we can bring capabilities in to the disaster to help bring relief, but without bringing a significant footprint adding to the problems,” Spiese said.
This year, the Marines are demonstrating a medical surge. “We’re going to be moving north our surgical companies and our shock-trauma platoons,” the general said. “Not only will they be part of the table-top exercise, but we will be putting them on display during Fleet Week at Mission Green near the piers in San Francisco.”
Fleet Week also will highlight the medical capabilities aboard the amphibious ships. The USS Bonhomme Richard will be on display.
In the past, San Francisco was laced with active duty bases, which closed as part of the base realignment and closure process. Today, local officials don’t really consider the help active duty forces could bring to a situation, Spiese said. Active duty forces have been used countless times in support of natural disasters inside the United States.
The exercise allows authorities “to understand what they can leverage and access out of the active duty force — in particular, the Navy and Marine Corps team in Southern California,” he said. “In the event of a disaster, they know quickly what they can start looking for and planning on, as well as the process by which they gain access to those federal resources.”
The Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Spiese said, is primarily a warfighting organization. The Fleet Week humanitarian aid and disaster response exercise is focused mainly on combat service support and logistics.
“It’s going to force us to think through the problem differently,” the general said. “It will force us to exercise a different part of the military brain.”
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