GAO, India --
Thirteenth Marine Expeditionary Unit has already been deployed more than a month and travelled far from the sunny shores of Southern California. Goa, a state on the Western side of India, known for its fish dishes, spices, beautiful beaches and unique architecture marked this deployment’s first foreign port visit for the Marines and Sailors serving aboard USS Harpers Ferry.
From Sept. 30, through Oct. 6, the Marines and Sailors with Battalion Landing Team 1/4 and Combat Logistics Battalion 13 participated in Exercise Shatrujeet 2013, community outreach projects and liberty tours throughout the state. These ventures drove the Fighting 13th to not only gain understanding of the rich culture but also to demonstrate their willingness to share what they know as a professional fighting force.
Within hours of pulling into the Port of Mormugao, the crew of the Harpers Ferry hosted a press conference and gave local media a tour of the ship. Reporters saw everything from the medical wing and ship’s bridge to Amphibious Assault Vehicles and weapons systems Marines use on the MEU. This media day left the reporters impressed, using such colorful adjectives as swanky, in their subsequent reporting to describe the ship and equipment aboard.
The next day, Oct. 1, more than 50 volunteers from both the Navy and Marine Corps visited Bal Bhavan School in the nearby city of Panaji where they handed out coloring books, crayons and medical supplies. They also took time to read stories to the children, who also sang to the service members when they arrived.
“It was good to get out there and do some community service and experience their culture,” said Sgt. Bradley G. Skidmore, Combat Engineer Detachment noncommissioned officer in charge, Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 13th MEU and Battle Creek, Mich. native. “Seeing the kids happy was great. Anytime you can put smile on someone’s face it will always put a smile on yours.”
Throughout the week, they also played sports matches against the Indian Navy in soccer, basketball and volleyball. For some Marines, India was the first foreign country they’ve ever visited. A first opportunity to interact with a new culture was a unique experience and provided an opportunity for many Marines to engage in new activities, such as riding elephants, seeing Indian-Portuguese architecture or just walking and sampling local food and drink.
“It was different, but a pretty cool experience to get out there and see the culture and see some history like the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral,” said Cpl. Troy M. Labbe, a radio operator with Headquarters Platoon, Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 13th MEU and Akron, Ohio native. “Overall everyone was friendly, and I had a fun time.”
The last four days of their stay in India included Exercise Shatrujeet 13, a staff exercise between the officers of CLB-13, BLT 1/4 and the 91st Brigade of the Indian Army. The purpose of the exercise was to enhance U.S.-India military-to-military relations and exchange knowledge. They achieved this through coordination of a brigade-sized attack in scenario driven classroom.
“It was more a cultural exchange between us based around the steps of the Marine Corps planning process,” said Capt. Robert L. Stevenson, operations officer of CLB-13, 13th MEU, and Atlanta native. “During the exercise we had our platoon commanders speaking on brigade level tactics and brigade level policies and considerations to their majors and lieutenant colonels. They worked and studied hard to do that, considering they haven’t been exposed to [Expeditionary Warfare School] yet. Overall the exercise was a good way for the Indian Army to develop their amphibious doctrine.”
With the exercise concluded, many souvenirs purchased and minds full of memories, the Harpers Ferry and those serving aboard left Mormugao Port ready for what lies ahead.
The Fighting 13th has many months ahead with many places to go. They could find themselves sinking their toes in warm sand during liberty on a distant shore, or sinking their boots into thick mud as they run drills, training for the unknown.