Approximately 2,000 Marines and sailors deployed to Australia’s Northern Territory this week to participate alongside their counterparts in the annual iteration of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, the Pentagon announced today.

“Over the next six months, MRF-Darwin will conduct a series of exercises and training events with the Australian Defence Force and other regional allies and partners to establish a forward-postured crisis response force, enhance interoperability between our forces, and contribute to a more stable and secure Indo-Pacific,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Major Geneneral Pat Ryder told the media during a briefing today.

Led for the third year in a row by a California-based Marine infantry regiment, this will be the 13th annual iteration of MRF-Darwin, according to a statement sent out by MRF-Darwin’s media team.

MRF-Darwin dates back to 2011, when former President Barack Obama and then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced an agreement on force posture initiatives designed to significantly enhance defence cooperation between the U.S and Australia.

While the initial iteration consisted of only a small liaison element and a company of 250 Marines, the agreement intended to “establish a rotational presence of up to a 2,500-person Marine Air Ground Task Force,” according to White House archives.

“The Marines and sailors of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin are honoured and excited to continue the legacy of cooperation and interoperability with our Australian Defence Force brothers and sisters,” Marine Corps Col. Brian T. Mulvihill, the commanding officer of MRF-Darwin, stated in the news release. “Our strong alliance contributes to stability in the region and enables the readiness of our forces to respond to any crisis or contingency that arises.”

This year’s MRF-Darwin will model itself on prior iterations by incorporating “security partners from throughout the Pacific Islands and the broader region” into the exercise schedule, according to the statement.

MRF-Darwin’s rotation is scheduled to conclude in October.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defence announced today that the Joint Task Force-Red Hill has completed its defueling mission at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii and shifted command and control of the facility to the United States Navy.

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment will continue to convene a Senior Steering Group on Red Hill to provide oversight and offer support to the Navy.

“Today I am pleased to announce that the Navy has assumed command and control of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility,” said Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin III. “Rear Admiral Stephen Barnett – now dual-hatted as Commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Commander of Navy Closure Task Force – will have overall responsibility for the final steps to ensure the safe closure of Red Hill.

“I’m grateful to Vice Admiral John Wade, Commander of the Joint Task Force, for his leadership and his work with the Hawaii Department of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, and our community partners in Hawaii to complete the Department’s prompt and safe defueling of Red Hill earlier this month.

“The Department of Defence and the United States Navy remain deeply committed to protecting the public’s health and preserving the environment. Rear Admiral Barnett is determined to close Red Hill safely, and I’ve directed him to continue to communicate with our personnel and the people of Hawaii candidly, frequently, and transparently.

The Navy will continue its work to safely close Red Hill while protecting the safety of the surrounding community and being responsible environmental stewards in Hawaii.”

In March 2022, Secretary Austin directed the defueling and the permanent closure of the Red Hill facility and established the Joint Task Force to lead the defueling efforts and maintain command and control of Red Hill. Last fall, the Secretary directed a conditions-based transition of command and control from the Joint Task Force to the Navy Closure Task Force, with the Navy assuming responsibility for Red Hill upon completion of the defueling mission.

On 04 March, the Joint Task Force completed its gravity defueling mission, and a significant number of its personnel have been reassigned to serve on the Navy Closure Task Force to retain institutional knowledge and to ensure continuity of mission for safety, security, and community engagement. The Department of the Navy has provided the remaining personnel.

Secretary Austin convened all key stakeholders on 14 March 2024, to verify that all conditions for transition, including final transition review and safety measure turnover, have been met.

Following certification by INDOPACOM, the Navy, the Joint Staff, and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment that the transition conditions have been met, Secretary Austin has directed the transition from the Joint Task Force to the Navy Closure Task Force. The Navy-led Task Force will assume responsibility for the permanent closure of Red Hill, in accordance with state and federal regulatory requirements.

Dual-hatting Rear Admiral Barnett as both Commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Commander of Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill will allow for synergies throughout the closure of Red Hill and remediation actions. It will also establish clear responsibility for future steps, which the Department hopes will continue to rebuild trust with the State of Hawaii and the community of Oahu. Rear Admiral Barnett will also draw on supporting commands’ capabilities to assist the Navy Closure Task Force.

A Deputy Commander for Closure and Demolition and a Deputy Commander for Remediation and Environment will both report to Rear Admiral Barnett. These Deputy Commanders will oversee the day-to-day activities of the project and will lead the on-the-ground execution of the Department of the Navy’s Tank Closure Plan.

Since the establishment of the Joint Task Force in 2022, the Navy has been routinely involved with community meetings to provide information and answer questions about the water-distribution system, the water-monitoring program, closure planning, and environmental remediation steps. The Navy will continue this high level of engagement throughout the closure of Red Hill.

On 28 February, the Department extended until March 2025 the Secretarial Designation authorizing continued access to a medical assessment at the Red Hill Clinic on Joint Base Pearl Harbour-Hickam. This designation was also expanded to include current residents of military family housing served by the Joint Base Pearl Harbour-Hickam Water Distribution System.