U.S. Marines and Sailors with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), along with members of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces, began exercise Red Reef 15 Dec. 7 in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. 

Red Reef is a biennial, bilateral exercise between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, set to increase proficiency, expand levels of military-to-military cooperation, promote long-term regional stability, interoperability and freedom of navigation.

Personnel from 11th MEU spent a week conducting the exercise alongside Saudi Marines from the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Saudi Marine Battalions and the Saudi Naval Special Forces.

Included in the exercise are U.S. Navy assets with amphibious transport dock ship USS San Diego (LPD 22) and dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45), both providing ship-to-shore connectors and landing platforms for aircraft in support of the training. 

Marines and Sailors of the 11th MEU and their Saudi Marine counterparts have already conducted a multitude of ranges throughout exercise Red Reef 15, to include joint machine gun and mortar ranges, call for fire operations with close-air support from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced), 11th MEU, fire and movement ranges, live-fire obstacle courses, and a helicopter vertical assault.

During each of these joint training events, both forces have greatly benefited from the unique training environment.

“This exercise is a great opportunity for Saudi and U.S. forces to train together, learn from each other and build strong relationships so we can provide security in the region,” said Lt. Col. Eddy I. Hansen, executive officer, 11th MEU.

The long-standing relationship between the U.S. military and the Royal Saudi Naval Forces is further enhanced as both units join together for meals each day once training is complete. 

“Sharing a meal was beneficial because it taught us more about the Saudi culture and how they are men just like us with similar wants and needs,” said Sgt. Joseph T. Hunt, a section leader with Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion 1st Marines, 11th MEU. “This better [improved] the bond for the U.S. and Saudi Marines. All of my Marines look forward to more training with the Saudi Marines.” 

The unique opportunity for the Marines and Sailors to participate in Saudi cultural experiences has helped strengthen the bonds between the units and enabled both the U.S. and Saudi Marines to understand each other on a more personal level. 

By participating in Red Reef 15, the 11th MEU and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) help to ensure that the U.S. maintains a forward operating presence in the region and are able to respond to any crisis. With the final event of the exercise approaching, there are still rehearsals to conduct in preparation for the closing joint demonstration of air, land and sea capabilities. 

The 11th MEU is deployed with the Makin Island ARG as a sea-based, quick reaction force conducting sustainment training and supporting a wide scale of operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.