Photo Information

Singapore Guard Col. Tan Yukun Alan, left, commander of 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade gives U.S. Marine Corps Col. Thomas M. Siverts, commanding officer of Marine Rotational Force Southeast Asia (MRF-SEA), I Marine Expeditionary Force, a parting gift during the closing ceremony for Exercise Valiant Mark 2022 on Bedok Camp II, Singapore, Dec. 6, 2022. Valiant Mark is an annual, bilateral training exercise designed to enhance interoperability, build mutual defense capabilities, and strengthen military-to-military relationships between the U.S. Marine Corps and Singapore Armed Forces. MRF-SEA is an operational model developed by Marine Corps Forces Pacific that postures scalable I Marine Expeditionary Forces west of the International Date Line, conducts a series of planned subject matter expert exchanges, and advances security objectives shared with our Allies and Partners. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jailine L. AliceaSantiago)

Photo by Sgt. Jailine AliceaSantiago

Partnerships in Practice: California Marines Remain Pros in Southeast Asia

15 Jan 2023 | Capt. Larry Boyd 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Military professionals put pacific partnerships into practice. The U.S. Marines accomplished precisely that during an inaugural I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) deployment to Southeast Asia this past September. I MEF deployed a new task-organized force known as Marine Rotational Force-Southeast Asia (MRF-SEA). This force combined subject matter experts and enablers and placed them under the command and control of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Command Element.

The first deployment of its kind, MRF-SEA, was led by the 11th MEU Commanding Officer, Colonel Thomas M. Siverts. This mission differed from the common MEU and Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF), which typically operates with individual command, aviation, ground combat, and combat logistics components. MRF-SEA consisted of a small command element with attached enabling functions, such as command and control capabilities, a reconnaissance platoon, sensing capabilities, small subject matter expert teams, and air naval gunfire liaisons. This operation aimed to create a scalable force that could meet mission requirements and shrink and grow to take advantage of emerging opportunities. This model reduced inter-theater transportation requirements and reduced logistics and operating costs as it introduced and sustained additional forces in the region. Training with foreign military partners, new training locations, and new capabilities were all aspects of the deployment that supported operational requirements and were in the interest of improving regional resiliency.

After months at sea, this task-organized force conducted a series of back-to-back exercises and security cooperation engagements with critical regional allies and partners in Southeast Asia, including the Philippine Marine Corps, the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, the Indonesian Marine Corps, and the Singapore Armed Forces, visiting each of those respective militaries' countries and military installations.

"Our deployment to Southeast Asia provided an opportunity to increase our readiness in several ways," said Major Corey Lockhart, the MRF-SEA Expeditionary Advanced Base (EAB) Commander. Specifically, we applied our knowledge of Force Design 2030 during subject matter expert exchanges (SMEEs), ensuring we shared a collective understanding of future warfighting concepts with our partners. We reassured our partners and allies in the region of our commitment to collective defense and ability to fight in any clime and place, and we capitalized on opportunities to experiment with sensors in support of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) in the Pacific theater.

The rotational force integrated and enhanced existing operations, activities, and investments (OAI) with allies and partner nations to include Exercise Kaagapay Ng Mga Mandirigma Ng Dagat (KAMANDAG) 6 in the Philippines, Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Brunei, Marine Exercise (MAREX) Indonesia, and Exercise Valiant Mark (VM) 2022 in Singapore.

The Marines, sailors, and airmen participating in MRF-SEA completed various training exercises across diverse island environments in the Indo-Pacific region, Southeast Asian jungles, and throughout local towns in multiple countries. Through close coordination, planning, and relationships with the U.S. Navy, MRF-SEA could efficiently use various maritime platforms to travel between each exercise. These U.S. Navy platforms included the Expeditionary Fast Transport 6, United States Naval Ship Brunswick, and the Littoral Combat Ship 14, United States Ship Manchester. This new operational model forward postured Marine forces and tightened interoperability with regional allies and security partners while optimizing transportation, logistics, and operational efficiencies.

During each exercise, the series of SME Exchanges presented an opportunity to enhance the professional and personal relationships among the participating forces. SME Exchanges covered various training topics, including maritime domain awareness; reconnaissance; explosive ordnance disposal; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense; operations in the information environment; joint fires; fire support; and unmanned aerial system operations.

Supporting joint and combined MDA efforts, Marines from the MRF-SEA Maritime Sensing Team (MST) employed emerging concepts and equipment during each OAI. The MST established a sensing EAB with a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) radar and small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) throughout the MRF-SEA deployment. Using a small form factor networking kit and local cell service, the team successfully sent tracks and location information from the sensing team to the Seventh Fleet (C7F) common operational picture (COP) system. Their efforts demonstrated the Marine Corps' ability to support MDA and maritime kill chains by finding and fixing notional targets in the littorals.

As treaty allies, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military have a long-standing friendship that has contributed to regional security and stability and is deeply rooted in cooperation. During KAMANDAG 6, Tagalog for "cooperation of the warriors of the sea," many US and Philippine Marine units participated across the Philippines. On the island of Palawan, Philippines, approximately 300 Philippine Marines and 250 U.S. Marines and Sailors of MRF-SEA trained closely together, along with members of the U.S. Air Force and Philippine Navy and Air Force. MRF-SEA focused on increasing combined capabilities for amphibious operations, special operations, maritime security, coastal defense, combined arms, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. Humanitarian assistance and training activities enable the Philippine and American service members to build lasting relationships, train together and aid in communities where the need is the greatest. The bilateral training led by the Philippine Marines showcased the strong relationship between the Philippines and the U.S.

MRF-SEA also benefited from an established relationship with the Royal Brunei Armed Forces during CARAT Brunei 22. The bilateral training featured urban operations, close-quarters battle, close-target reconnaissance, and tactical combat casualty care facilitated by U.S. Navy Corpsmen attached to MRF-SEA. This iteration of CARAT Brunei, the 28th anniversary of CARATs among Allied and partner nations, highlighted the long-term commitment to strengthening relationships throughout South and Southeast Asia and the U.S. Navy's commitment to a critical Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) partner. It was evident throughout the exercise that the U.S. and Brunei shared a commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
While in Indonesia, Marine forces from the U.S. Military and Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) held the Keris Marine Exercise (MAREX) from 11 to 25 November 2022. The inaugural Keris MAREX bilateral exercise, led by the U.S. Marine Corps and Korps Marinir Republik Indonesia (KORMAR), promoted military interoperability and MDA capabilities, strengthened relationships, and expanded capabilities among participating forces.

Throughout Keris MAREX 23, approximately 180 U.S. Marines from the MRF-SEA force and 260 KORMAR Marines from the 7th Marine Battalion trained closely together. The exercise activities focused on increasing combined capabilities for coastal defense, joint fires, rocket artillery, small unmanned aerial systems, and cultural and community engagements on the Southeastern coast of Lampung, Indonesia, in South Sumatra. Keris MAREX 23 enabled MRF-SEA to develop bilateral problem-solving techniques and forged bonds of friendship between American and Indonesian service members. Most importantly, though, when the world faces multiple crises in today's environment, exercises like Keris MAREX 23 become increasingly important. This exercise highlighted the strength and stability of the U.S.-Indonesia relationship and promoted a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

MRF-SEA finished the sequence of OAIs with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the 25th iteration of the annual bilateral Exercise Valiant Mark (VM) 22. The closing ceremony was co-officiated by the Commander, 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade (7 SIB), Colonel Alan Tan, and MRF-SEA Commanding Officer, Colonel Siverts, at Bedok Camp, Singapore, following the conclusion of the final exercise. VM 22 was held in Singapore from 28 November to 9 December 2022 with approximately 850 personnel from the SAF's 7th Singapore Infantry Brigade, 3rd Battalion Singapore Guards, and the MRF-SEA force bolstered by an infantry rifle platoon with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) also supported the exercise with two AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and three CH-47 Chinook helicopters. The exercise culminated in a Battalion heliborne mission at Murai Urban Training Facility involving joint planning and a deliberate assault by the troops. Other exercise elements included SMEEs, live-firing at the Multi-Mission Range Complex, jungle training, and urban operations training across Singapore.

In the future, forces employed under the MRF-SEA construct will continue to conduct bilateral and multilateral security cooperation engagements with a cohesive force on three to six-month deployments. This modular force will employ distributed command, control, logistics, and transportation nodes while executing expeditionary advanced base operations in the littorals of Southeast Asia, leveraging placement and access of existing OAIs, that mutually support ongoing regional engagements and operations.

Before MRF-SEA's redeployment to Camp Pendleton, California, planning had already begun for the next rotation to travel west of the International Date Line. Marine Forces Pacific developed the Southeast Asia Regional Operating Concept as an operating model for forward deploying assigned forces to achieve maritime security objectives in close partnership with regional Allies and Partners. In contrast to other deployment models, MRF-SEA, assigned to I MEF forces, will continue providing a force package optimized for focused and deliberate engagements with Allies and Partners through scheduled exercises, SMEEs, and other small unit training events. This rotational force embodies the theater's state of strategic competition and improves I MEF's contributions to regional stability by increasing responsiveness to potential crises and contingencies.

More Media

Marine Corps News

Colonel Thomas M. Siverts
Commanding Officer

Colonel Tom Siverts is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1989. He achieved a commission as a Second Lieutenant through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program following his graduation from the University of Virginia in May 1999. Colonel Siverts has deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and ENDURING FREEDOM. His other operational deployments include serving with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/8, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU); BLT 3/8, 22d MEU; BLT 2/8, 26th MEU, and Task Force 61/2.

Read Biography

Lieutenant Col. Steven M. Sprigg
Executive Officer

LtCol Sprigg was born in Parkersburg, WV. LtCol Sprigg enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in September 2004 and recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC. LtCol Sprigg was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in March 2008. He was designated a Naval Aviator in February 2011 and reported to HMLAT-303 for training as an AH-1W pilot. LtCol Sprigg is currently serving as the Executive Officer for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Camp Pendleton, California.

Read Biography

Sergeant Major Travis L. DeBarr
Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major DeBarrĀ enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to MCRD San Diego, CA, for recruit training in October 1994.Staff Sergeant DeBarr completed two combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from September 2005 to April 2006 and again form March 2007 to September 2007. While serving with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, First Sergeant DeBarr completed one combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from October 2012 to May 2013. Sergeant Major DeBarr currently serves as the Sergeant Major for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Read Biography