STUTTGART, Germany — Marines began moving into their barracks this week at a U.S. base in Sigonella, Italy, which will serve as the new home to a special task force of reconnaissance troopers tasked with training African militaries fighting Africa-based terror groups.
The newly formed Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12, which has been more than two years in the making, includes roughly 125 Marines, who will be focused mainly on training militaries across the Sahel — a northern region of Africa that is home to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
“It’s not necessarily limited to that, but it is our primary focus,” said Maj. Dave Winnacker, executive officer of the Marine task force. “We’re eager to put these skills to work wherever there is work.”
The Marines are expected to deploy in small groups, sending platoon-sized elements on missions that could range from five days to five weeks.
“We can slice it and dice it any way we need,” said Winnacker, adding that reconnaissance Marines also give added flexibility. “They’re the jack of all trades. We can plug them into anything.”
For the past three months, members of the new unit have been making preparations at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. One of the main areas of focus has been getting Marines, who have spent much of the past decade fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, out of war-fighting mode. Since many of the Marines are inexperienced as teachers, much of the pre-deployment training has been focused on showing infantrymen how to lead in a classroom setting, Winnacker said.
Because the Marines also will be operating in relative isolation, without the kind of back-up support available in a war zone, they are also learning force protection tactics, according to Marines.
“We’re in a much more austere environment, and Marines have to be much more self-sufficient and capable of resolving and de-escalating a situation,” Winnacker said.
The missions will be one year in length, roughly seven months spent overseas with the rest of the time focused on pre-deployment training and redeployment.