On 22 September 2022, Task Force Red Cloud (TFRC), Combat Logistics Battalion 6 (CLB 6), 2d Marines Logistics Group (2d MLG), deployed to Dragsvik, Finland. This deployment to Finland for Amphibious Training Exercise II (ATE2) came at the tail end of Amphibious Training Exercise I (ATE1). ATE2 was significantly different from ATE1. ATE1, a short duration evolution executed between a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Finnish Defense Forces, represented the MEU’s capability of a joint forcible entry operation (JFEO) to seize operational tempo and establish a foothold. ATE2 in turn represented the establishment of follow-on forces ashore. As such, ATE2 presented the culmination of rapid planning and task organizing a unit of Marines from across the 2d MLG for a specific purpose: the first opportunity for long term engagement between the U.S. Marines and the Nylands Brigade. For two and a half months, the U.S. Marines of TFRC lived with and integrated with the Finnish Naval Infantrymen of the Nylands Brigade. TFRC participated in the major exercises Syd 22 and Freezing Winds 22 (FW22). TFRC with liaison officers from the Nylands Brigade explored opportunities for further engagement with soldiers from the Pori Brigade and the Utti Regiment, along with airmen from the Finnish Air Force. More importantly however, TFRC and the Nylands Brigade carried out the day-to-day bilateral engagement required to sustain real life support and developed the lasting relationships needed for future engagement.
Composition of Task Force Red Cloud
While in Finland, the archipelagic environment presented many challenges to the current construct of Marine logistics units. First and foremost, the U.S. Marine Combat Logistics Battalions are heavily land oriented organizations. Traditionally, once ashore, a logistics battalion provides sustainment support via land-based transportation. Figure 1 shows the typical layout of a traditional Combat Logistics Battalion such as TFRC’s parent unit, CLB 6. The introduction of a significant amount of water and islands into the operational area presented an experimentation venue in support of the Marine Corps’ current vision for Force Design in which the CLB will “provide tactical logistics support to [littoral forces] by resupplying expeditionary advanced base (EAB) sites, managing cache sites, and connecting to higher-level logistics providers.” Theoretically, the logistics battalion’s purpose is to provide a more diverse distribution capability for food, fuel and ammunition, limited Role II medical forces, and field level maintenance—all in an operating environment characterized by littorals in the maritime domain.
Figure 1. The Layout of Order of Battle for a Combat Logistics Battalion.
With an eye on force design and understanding that TFRC was going to have to project sustainment from land into an archipelagic environment, planners incorporated multiple means of distribution. On the ground, distribution centered around the Marine Corps’ medium truck fleet (MTVRs or “7 tons”. In the air, distribution extended into external lift operations from rotary wing aircraft, and aerial delivery operations. TFRC’s distribution capability also centered on CLB 6’s newly formed Littoral Tactical Logistics Section (LTLS), which contained numerous coxswains and unmanned surface vessel (USV) operators. Finally, the task force also incorporated other capability sets such as explosive ordnance disposal, engineering reconnaissance, fires coordination, and a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) defense (figure 2). These capabilities allowed TFRC to continue experimental efforts while providing sustainment to the Nylands Brigade throughout the execution of ATE2. TFRC’s task organization allowed adaptability to emerging opportunities throughout the course of the deployment.
Figure 2. The Task Organization of Task Force Red Cloud.
Day to Day Life in the Nylands Brigade
As TFRC deployed into Finland, it was immediately brought into the Nylands Brigade family. The task force found its home in Dragsvik Garnison where the Marines were housed and worked out of highly effective and rapidly built facilities. The facility, meant to house approximately 200 personnel comfortably, was easily able to accommodate the smaller task force footprint. The staff of the Nylands Brigade supported the task force as Marines quickly found workshops, supply areas, medical facilities, brigade and battalion facilities, and quickly linked in with their respective counterparts to ensure smooth operations. TFRC staff quickly found themselves integrated with the brigade’s daily and weekly battle rhythm events such as Commander’s Update Briefs.
Within a week of arriving, a three-week period of Combat Enhancement Training (CET) and Force Integration Training (FIT) began. During this CET/FIT period, the Marines of TFRC learned many lessons that helped facilitate operations during Syd 22 and FW22. CET/FIT lessons included Nylands Brigade instruction on all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes as well as integration with Marine recovery and evacuation assets with Nylands Brigade vehicles. The Nylands Brigade also instructed Marine coxswains on operations of the M8 Watercat boats during both daylight and times of reduced visibility in the Finnish archipelago. This time also supported integration with the Utti Regiment as U.S. Marines executed sustainment operations using Finnish NH 90 aircraft. Many of these lessons helped TFRC answer two questions: “How were the Marines going to sustain the Nylands Brigade in the archipelago?” and “How would a logistics unit operate in a contested littoral environment?”
In addition to lessons learned with the Nylands Brigade, the training and exercise cadre of the Nylands Brigade helped to establish connections with external units. The expansion reflected the true joint nature of the operating area and the coordination required to provide multi-modal distribution within an archipelagic environment. The results of this coordination reflected in operations with army aviation from the Utti Regiment as noted above, but it also resulted in interaction with the Pori Brigade as Finnish Army’s CBRN forces conducted a multiday bilateral evolution with TFRC’s CBRN section. The LTLS and EOD section would eventually work with the Finnish Navy’s Mine Countermeasure (MCM) units during FW22. Finally, TFRC’s aerial delivery Marines would conduct multiple air deliveries with the Finnish Air Force to sustain exercising forces during FW22.
Day to day battle rhythm and training opportunities aside, the Marines of TFRC and the Naval Infantrymen of the Nylands Brigade shared opportunities for cultural exchange. This included soldiers sharing meals with Marines, inviting Marines into their homes, and spending time together at local restaurants in Ekenas and Helsinki. From September to December 2022, TFRC and the Nylands Brigade participated in many events together. This included the Swedish Heritage Day Parade aboard Dragsvik Garnison; a U.S. Marine Corps Birthday cake cutting ceremony; Finnish Independence Day activities such as the morning flag raising and wreath laying at the Ekenas cemetery; and U.S. invitation and attendance to the annual Epiphany Ball. The Marines quickly found a home with the Nylands Brigade.
In Direct Support of the Nylands Brigade
As the major exercises of ATE2 came into focus, TFRC integrated and conducted planning with the Nylands Brigade. Initial sustainment support to the Nylands Brigade was limited to transportation, engineering reconnaissance, and EOD integration during exercise Syd 22. As Syd 22 was largely a static fires exercise, support was limited to long range convoy operations. However, numerous lessons were learned as TFRC’s Fire Support Team (FiST) conducted bilateral training with members of the Mortar Company, Ekenas Battalion, Nylands Brigade. Through these interactions, the Marines of TFRC reinforced the need for future logistics units to be able to integrate fires more effectively with supported units in the future. Particularly in a contested littoral environment, the need for fires integration is paramount for survivability of sustainment forces and the maneuver forces that they sustain.
As a part of exercise FW22, TFRC provided significant combat service support (CSS) to the Nylands Brigade. This occurred as the Nylands Brigade executed both sea based and land based maneuver ISO simulated advances on both Uppiniemi and Syndalen training areas. FW22 provided TFRC the ability to act in a live scenario where it could receive supplies from higher echelon sustainment units such as CSS Battalions for further distribution to maneuver units. This support came in the form of ground based and air-based distribution operations along air and sea axes of advance , EOD support, engineering reconnaissance in support of ground and sea axes of advance, and Role I medical support. There were times where TFRC’s Role I medical capability was collocated with the Finnish CSS Battalion’s Role II capability, mitigating the need for the Role II to service Role I requirements.
For future planning and experimentation efforts, the Nylands Brigade can certainly teach the Marine Corps many lessons about working in an archipelagic region. The Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) handbook points out, “large ships will create heroic but short battle histories in future war…sea control and denial capabilities will shift to smaller and more persistent and survivable platforms tactically dispersed throughout the inside battle space.”2 The Marine Corps is capable of operating from large ships and the Marine Corps is world class in sustaining from the sea. ATE1 proved this point. ATE2, however, showed that success in the littorals takes an approach that requires Marines to operate away from well-established support infrastructure. Continuing these lessons will be important for future partner relations as well as the U.S. Marines Force Design efforts.
Deploying to Finland and integrating with the Nylands Brigade was the career highlight for many Marines within the TFRC. Many of the Marines who deployed to Finland will take the relationships built with them either to the civilian world as they end active service or begin the baseline for future iterations of bilateral training. More importantly though, the partnership of TFRC and the Nylands Brigade paved the way for potential future exercises and bilateral subject matter expert exchanges. These subject matter expert exchanges may come in the form of fires controllers such as joint terminal air controllers (JTACs) or it may come in the form of coxswains, USV operators, or planners. As this relationship continues to develop there are numerous opportunities that both partners can capitalize on.
As the Marines redeployed home in December 2022, the relationships formed laid the foundation for future bilateral engagements. Interoperability will continue to be at the forefront of the U.S. and Finnish exercises. These exercises may manifest as new iterations of what was seen during ATE1, or they may be seen as what was experienced by both sides with the persistent presence of ATE2. Both exercise types have value as ATE1 style exercises show an ability for both sides to rapidly come together and plan, however the enduring presence force in the style of ATE2 will ultimately maintain the tone for the future.
Captain, Task Force Red Cloud Officer In Charge
Combat Logistics Battalion 6