HMS Illustrious -- A detachment of Marines from Marine Attack Squadron 513, along with Marines from VMA-223 and VMA-542, joined the Royal Navy at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., July 13 aboard the HMS Illustrious for Exercise Bold Step.
The purpose of the exercise is to provide the ship’s crew and the Marine pilots with enough Harriers to allow them to function at an operational tempo similar to what they would see in combat.
“We’re getting ready to do things with an allied navy with strong naval traditions and history,” said Col. Eric Van Camp, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 14 and exercise air group commander. “It’s the first time a U.S. unit has done anything like this since World War II or Korea, and it’s definitely a first for the Marines.”
As the three combined squadrons boarded the ship, there was a definite air of excitement, but safety was the main concern at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
“Nothing is more important on this ship than safety,” said Sgt. Maj. Courtney Curtis, air group sergeant major, during his first address to the Marines after boarding the ship.
After an evening of liberty in the Norfolk area, the next day began with a slew of classes for the Marines.
From learning how to fight fires to how to supply the jets with power on the flight deck, each brief was given to ensure the mission is a success, not only for the pilots and aircraft, but for the maintenance Marines and sailors as well.
“We’ll know this mission was successful if we bring all the Marines and machines back when we’re done,” said Van Camp.
The first true test of the Marines’ and sailors’ ability to work as a team was the arrival of the Harriers Sunday afternoon.
“Today is game day,” said Van Camp as the Marines mustered for the first time as a single, combined force. “We’ve talked the talk, now we gotta walk the walk. I’ve talked to you about my two key points, patience and focus, now I’m going to add two more: attention to detail, and teamwork between us and our hosts.”
Each Marine soon found out how important and relevant each point was as the Harriers made their appearance in the sky above the flight deck. Marines and sailors alike stepped to the plate and executed their roles with precision and confidence.
Once all the jets had arrived safely aboard the HMS Illustrious, the Marines and their hosts joined together once again for a short debrief and a few more classes on safety.
“It was a good first day -- not without challenges. We will continue to have challenges, but it was a good first day. Good job out there. Keep up the patience, focus and attention to detail,” said Van Camp.
The ship’s commanding officer was equally pleased and reiterated to the Marines the significance of their participation in Exercise Bold Step and added one more reason why this event was so important.
“Your embarkation onboard HMS Illustrious will allow the ship to train and test many aspects of the maritime strike capability in a demanding scenario alongside the U.S. Navy and Marines,” said Royal Navy Captain Tim Fraser, the commanding officer of HMS Illustrious.
“It is an exciting time for the ship’s company to operate with your aircraft, demonstrating our versatility and flexibility while sharing best practice and integrating with you on board,” said Fraser.
As the first day of the exercise drew to a close, it was punctuated by one of the Corps’ finest traditions.
“I’m pretty sure no other sergeant major has ever reenlisted aboard a Royal Navy vessel. I could have done this anywhere. I chose to do it here for a reason,” said Curtis. “(I wanted) to show my respect for the forces who fight alongside us in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
And on that sentimental note, the Marines were released, ready to embark on another day of hard work and historical milestones aboard the HMS Illustrious.