The amphibious invasions of the past, when the U.S. took thousands of casualties in a single battle, are not likely to be repeated. The new approach military leaders are using in the exercise known as Bold Alligator involves a more nuanced approach that relies on allies and friendly countries. That means relying on multi-nation coalitions and deciding whether to stage ships in port or out to sea because it could disrupt the host nation's economy. Navy leaders prefer to operate out of a "sea base" away from shore.
This week's exercise has been in the planning stages for several years, but it also occurs days before the president will submit his defense budget proposal to Congress. Several members of Congress visited the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship serving as the exercise's flagship, in the days leading up to the assault.
"We didn't put Bold Alligator together to send a message to Congress, but there may be, you know, there's always second-order effects," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert.
As part of the Defense Department's budget proposal, some ships will be retired earlier than expected while the purchase of others is being delayed.
Amphibious assaults were common during World War II, when Allied troops landed on various islands in the Pacific. And perhaps the best-known amphibious assault was the Normandy invasion of German-occupied France — depicted in "Saving Private Ryan" and other films — when U.S. troops stormed Omaha Beach. Since then, such landings have become far more rare, though amphibious assaults were conducted during Operation Desert Storm and the recent Iraq War.
The Navy is concerned about developing an amphibious mindset for the future. Adm. John C. Harvey, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, issued a memo last year urging every sailor in the Atlantic Fleet to read the Navy's doctrine on amphibious operations, as well as three books about the 1982 conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands.
Likewise, Lt. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command, also told his Marines to beef up their knowledge of historic amphibious battles.
However, for Marines like Sgt. David Smith, an amphibious assault vehicle section leader, he knows there's nothing like getting his crews and others who aren't accustomed to amphibious warfare live training to prepare for coming ashore.
"We've been working with these guys a lot, and we'll do a lot of training and we'll head out in the field and head out to the beach for a couple days, but you can't mock coming out of a ship unless you're actually doing it," he said. "Some of those drivers who have never done it, it's their first time on a ship. You can't beat that."
Felberbaum reported from Virginia Beach.
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