Hundreds of Marines Are Headed to Central, South America as Amphib Changes Homeports

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The multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp steams through the ocean. (Petty Officer 3rd Class David Smart/U.S. Navy)
The multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp steams through the ocean. (Petty Officer 3rd Class David Smart/U.S. Navy)

About 200 Marines and sailors will train with partners in Central and South America as the amphibious assault ship Wasp makes its way to its new homeport in Virginia.

Members of the California-based 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit will spend October in the U.S. Southern Command area of operations, forming Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Wasp as the amphib makes its way from Japan to the East Coast.

The Wasp will transit all the way around the South American continent, Cmdr. Kate Meadows, a spokeswoman for Naval Forces Southern Command, said. The Marine unit aboard will include members of 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines; Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166; and 1st Marine Logistics Group.

Marine officials declined to say where the ship will stop, citing diplomatic sensitivities announcing the locations. But in a news release announcing the embark, officials said the Marines want to build on training they've done in the region as they "[seek] additional opportunities to support other partner nations" there.

Related: USS Wasp Leaves 7th Fleet and Japan for New US Homeport

Col. Andrew Priddy, the unit's commander, said in the statement that the Marines and sailors will be involved in several humanitarian-themed events.

This marks at least the third time in five years that the sea services have sent an amphibious ship and Marine unit to train with allies in the region.

Last year, about 200 Marines spent six weeks working with the Peruvians as they prepared for humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief missions. The Marines sailed to South America aboard the amphibious transport dock ship Somerset.

In 2014, Marines and sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship America made four stops in South America as the ship transited around the continent from its shipyard to San Diego. The America, which has replaced the Wasp in Japan, made stops in Colombia, Brazil, Chile and Peru on that transit.

Every year during hurricane season, the Marine Corps also sends a land-based special-purpose unit to Central America. Those Marines train with partners in Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador, and remain on standby to assist if a natural disaster strikes.

The Marines aboard the Wasp will deploy with MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which are often used to move people and equipment during humanitarian missions.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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