MALIPO BEACH, South Korea — U.S. and South Korean Marines came ashore in amphibious assault vehicles Thursday without the close contact from protesters that complicated last year’s joint beach landing exercise.
Just before 11 a.m., gray outlines of ships such as the USS Cowpens, out of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, appeared just short of the horizon.
Dozens of cresting white waves approached the beach.
As the water got shallower, the tops of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Okinawa-based amphibious assault vehicles poked over the waves and sent plumes of smoke toward the sky.
U.S. helicopters swarmed overhead, where they would provide airstrikes during battle. Meanwhile, the Cowpens and other ships in Commander, Corvette Squadron 32 guarded landing craft and others against inbound threats.
Sasebo Naval Base’s USS Essex and Amphibious Squadron 11 combined with South Korea’s Amphibious Squadron 53 to track battle movements.
While U.S. and South Korean amphibious vehicles made landfall, two U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion ships arrived on their flank, one of which deposited a South Korean tank on shore.
“Our real job starts when the ramp drops,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Abelar, a squad team leader whose job during war is to run out the back of the amphibious vehicle and begin attacking.
But unlike last year’s Foal Eagle exercise beach landing, the Marines did not exit their vehicles and storm the beach on foot, citing security reasons.
Last year, protesters stuck stickers on Marine vehicles as they landed on the public beach.
This year, almost 800 South Korean combat police guarded the beach, a Seosan police spokesman said.
Police cordoned the beach with razor wire.
About 40 protesters were allowed to demonstrate on a sidewalk overlooking the beach.
Police said up to 80 total protesters took turns attending the rally.
They chanted and waved signs at helicopters, shouting at them to leave the peninsula.
Jung Yong-jun, who said he coordinated the protests as part of the Unification Association, said they didn’t oppose all military exercises.
However, he said they see RSOI/Foal Eagle and the August Ulchi Focus Lens exercise as “an attempt to topple the North Korea regime and to assassinate its leaders.”
The exercise is a step back from recent talks with North Korea to end its nuclear program, said Jung, who also disputed the beach and police blockades Thursday.
Few servicemembers had any contact with the protesters.
Their vehicles landed several blocks away from the demonstration and continued to a staging area.
The Foal Eagle amphibious task group included more than 3,000 U.S. Marines and sailors, Marine officials said.
More than 1,400 South Korean marines were involved in the landing, a South Korean spokesman said.