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Marines restart annual Australia rotation paused by coronavirus pandemic

Cpl. Isaiah Fraser, a data system administrator with Marine Rotational Force — Darwin, shoots an M4 carbine at Robertson Barracks in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, April 29, 2020.

NATALIE GREENWOOD/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 7, 2020

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The Marine Corps is resuming a summer deployment of Marines and sailors to Darwin, Australia, that was postponed over the coronavirus pandemic.

The Marines delayed the rotation of 2,500 Marines on March 30 following an order from Defense Secretary Mark Esper a week earlier barring nearly all official movement overseas for Defense Department personnel.

On Tuesday, however, a statement by U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific announced that the annual Marine Rotational Force-Darwin deployment is back on.

“The decision to resume the deployment comes as the government of Australia is granting an exemption to current travel restrictions to allow the 2020 MRF-D rotation to proceed,” it said.

The decision is based on Australia’s record of managing impacts from the coronavirus and adherence by deployed U.S. Marines to a 14-day quarantine and other requirements when they arrive in country.

“The Marine Corps is committed to ensuring the health and safety of its forces and the Australian people, including local indigenous communities,” the statement said.

The Darwin force, which trains in Australia during the Northern Hemisphere summer, has built up slowly since an initial contingent of 250 Marines hit the beach there in 2012. Last year the Marines rotational force had grown to 10 times that size, its target strength.

The Marines are working with the Australians to determine the composition of the force that will resume the rotation along with timing and training plans, according to Thursday’s statement. Changes to this year’s deployment do not impact plans for those in subsequent years.

Fifty-four Marines who arrived in Darwin in an advance party in March have already gone through quarantine and begun training with their Australian counterparts, according to officials.

Equipment and supplies for the Marines continued to arrive in Darwin last month despite the hold-up for personnel.

Marines and Australian soldiers practiced simulating shooting with each other’s weapons April 29, according to a Marine Corps news release dated April 30.

“Our ability to understand each other’s capabilities is paramount and that’s one of the main reasons we have the MRF-D as a rotation,” Maj. Johnathon Ronayne, Australian Defence Force liaison to the Marines in Darwin, said in the release.

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Cpl. Nitselly Henriquez Belliard, an administrative specialist with Marine Rotational Force — Darwin, puts on ear protection before shooting on the Weapon Training Simulation System at Robertson Barracks in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, April 29, 2020.
NATALIE GREENWOOD/U.S. MARINE CORPS

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