Marines with Marine Rotational Force-Darwin sprint to their first station wearing full gear during a May 23 squad competition at a training range in Australia. (Sgt. Sarah Fiocco / Marine Corps)
Oct. 14, 2013 - By GINA HARKINS – Defense News
The Australian government will begin a multimillion-dollar construction project this month at two military facilities to accommodate future rotations of up to 2,500 US Marines.
Australia’s defense department announced Friday that it awarded $11 million for new facilities at the Australian army’s Robertson Barracks and the Royal Australian Air Force Base in Darwin, according to a news release. The project will ensure “appropriate living and working accommodation is available for the US Marine Corps.”
The Corps’ presence in Australia’s Northern Territory is expected to increase dramatically next year when, starting in the spring, about 1,200 Marines arrive for six months of training in the region. The last two rotations comprised about 200 Marines. By 2016, the U.S. expects to deploy a full Marine air-ground task force numbering 2,500 personnel, officials have said.
To date, the company-size units rotating through Darwin have stayed at Robertson Barracks. But with aviation support in tow next year, about 130 Marines — along with four heavy-lift helicopters — will be stationed at the air force base, the news release says.
The construction projects are expected to begin in coming weeks and will be completed by the end of February.
About 200 Marines and sailors with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, recently returned home to Hawaii, having spent six months Down Under as Marine Rotational Force-Darwin. It’s unclear which unit will deploy next.
Before leaving in September, US and Australian forces conducted a battalion-level training event at Bradshaw Field Training Area, located in the remote Australian outback. About 750 Marines and sailors from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit joined 150 Marines with MRF-Darwin and 100 Australian troops.
The exercise helped commanders identify the advantages and limitations of the training field, said Col. John Merna, the 31st MEU’s commanding officer. They found that its location, about 200 miles inland from the shallow waters of the Coral Sea coastline, presented some logistical challenges.
“It’s very austere,” Merna told Marine Corps Times. “Any time you can go into a training area that’s an established training area, it’ll be more useful and effective. So more facilities, harder structures, communications — things that are more permanent — [would be] helpful.”