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A landing craft air cushion leaves the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay during training in the Gulf of Thailand, Feb. 28, 2022.

A landing craft air cushion leaves the well deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay during training in the Gulf of Thailand, Feb. 28, 2022. (Jonathan Berlier/U.S. Navy)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – The Navy’s amphibious force and the Marine Corps’ crisis response in the Indo-Pacific are about to get closer as they merge command staffs for a series of upcoming exercises.

Task Force 76, also known as Expeditionary Strike Group 7, and the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade will meld into a unified structure called Task Force 76/3 during upcoming exercises Noble Fusion, which starts Saturday at undisclosed spots across the region, and Kamandag on Monday in the Philippines, according to a Navy statement Tuesday.

The point of the 18-month experiment is to provide increased readiness to Navy and Marine Corps leaders by testing and evaluating “naval integration concepts” at-sea and on shore, the statement said.

The new task force will be led by Navy Rear Adm. Derek Trinque with brigade commander Brig. Gen. Fridrik Fridriksson serving as his deputy. Planning began earlier this year, and joint operations are expected through next summer.

“Task Force 76/3 is what we believe naval integration should look like for our mission and our forces in the Indo-Pacific region,” Fridriksson said in the statement. “We are going to be real and honest with ourselves, so we can provide better prepared forces for the full range of operations, from humanitarian and disaster response to high intensity conflict.”

Task Force 76 – the 7th Fleet’s amphibious force – is composed of approximately 5,500 sailors, along with aircraft, landing craft and ships stationed across the region. It is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, but its ships are based mostly in Sasebo, on the Japanese island of Kyushu. They travel south to Okinawa to pick up the Marines before going out on patrol.

The expeditionary brigade is based at Camp Courtney, Okinawa, and is often referred to as the Marine Corps’ “middle-weight” response force in the region. It was built to be more powerful than the smaller 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit yet more agile than the massive III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The brigade features a standing headquarters element of between 100 and 150 Marines and sailors but can reach several thousand after receiving tasked units for operations, brigade spokesman Maj. George McArthur said by phone Tuesday. The brigade conducts everything from forcible entry amphibious assault to humanitarian assistance, according to the unit’s website.

The merging of the two staffs was ordered by Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger and the chief of naval operations Adm. Mike Gilday, task force spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Andrew DeGarmo said by email Tuesday.

The changes will mostly be seen at the top, Trinque told Stars and Stripes during a phone interview Tuesday. Some staff members have been shuffled around Okinawa to the headquarters of their sister service, and communications have been consolidated.

One example is that both units have their own intelligence officers, Trinque said. Under this new integrated structure, a Marine serves as the lead Task Force 76/3 intelligence officer. Very few changes will be felt in the lower ranks.

“The primary benefits come as we pool our talents,” he said.

The services will pause at certain points through the process, evaluate how things are going and make changes, Trinque said.

They are being given enough leeway to try things and to fail, Fridriksson added during the phone interview. Lessons learned will be sent up the chain of command.

“We’ll probably change what we’re doing as we’re doing it along the way, but we’re going to improve and we’re going to be more ready in the end,” Trinque said.

Task Force 76 and the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade will meld into a unified structure called Task Force 76/3, the Navy announced Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.

Task Force 76 and the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade will meld into a unified structure called Task Force 76/3, the Navy announced Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (U.S. Navy)

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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