Timothy J. Gibbons
The Florida Times-Union
April 28, 2009

Sailors and Marines along the beach at Mayport began moving the crowd away from the water Saturday afternoon as the amphibious assault vehicles approached across the waves.

“Everybody back up!” a sailor shouted. “Keep backing up. Now move back just a little more.”

Moments later, the vehicles – looking like the offspring of a submarine and a tank – burst through the surf, surging forward as their treads bit into the sand.

The hydraulic brakes slammed into action, and the rear of the vehicles opened, disgorging more than 100 troops from eight countries.

[efoods]”Left, go left!” shouted a U.S. Marine. “Shape up over there!”

Overhead, a brace of helicopters rented the sky.

The assault on the beach at Mayport Naval Station was part of the Marine’s Partnership of the Americas exercise, held in conjunction with the Navy’s Unitas exercise.

“It’s really a learning environment for everybody,” said Col. Jay Huston, commanding officer of the task force doing the exercise.

During the past week, the troops – Marines from the U.S. and six countries in Central and South America, as well as soldiers from Canada – worked together at Camp Blanding, fast-roping out of helicopters, firing weapons and sharing tactics.

They jelled quickly.

“The only difference in identity” said Lt. Col. Jorge Garcia of Colombia, “is in the color of the uniforms. We have the same objectives.”

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