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26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

A Certain Force in an Uncertain World

Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
What is a MAGTF?

The Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) is a term used by the United States Marine Corps to describe the principal organization for all missions across the range of military operations. MAGTFs are a balanced air-ground, combined arms task organization of Marine Corps forces under a single commander that is structured to accomplish a specific mission. The MAGTF was formalized by the publishing of Marine Corps Order 3120.3 in December of 1963. It stated:

A Marine air-ground task force with separate air-ground headquarters is normally formed for combat operations and training exercises in which substantial combat forces of both Marine aviation and Marine ground units are included in the task organization of participating Marine forces.

Since World War II in many crisis' the United States Marine Corps has deployed projection forces, with the ability to move ashore with sufficient sustainability for prolonged operations. MAGTFs have long provided the United States with a broad spectrum of response options when U.S. and allied interests have been threatened and in non-combat situations which require instant response to crisis. Selective, timely and credible commitment of air-ground units have, on many occasions, helped bring stability to a region and sent signals worldwide that the United States is willing to defend its interests, and is able to do so with a significantly powerful force on extremely short notice.

The four core elements the Marine Air-Ground Task Force are :

The Command Element (CE), a headquarters unit that directs the other elements.

The Ground Combat Element (GCE), usually comprising infantry, supported by armor (tanks), and artillery, but may also include special units such as scouts or Force Reconnaissance, snipers and forward air controllers.

The Aviation Combat Element (ACE), which contributes the air power to the MAGTF. The ACE includes all aircraft (both fixed wing and helicopters), their pilots and maintenance personnel, and those units necessary for aviation command and control.

The Logistics Combat Element (LCE), contains all of the support units for the MAGTF: communications, combat engineers, motor transport, medical, supply units, and certain specialized groups such as air delivery and landing support teams.

The four core elements describe types of forces needed and not actual military units or commands. The basic structure of the MAGTF never varies, though the number, size, and type of Marine Corps units comprising each of its four elements will always be mission dependent. The flexibility of the organizational structure allows for one or more subordinate MAGTFs to be assigned.

Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF)
A Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) comprises a MEF Headquarters Group, Marine Division, Marine Air Wing and Marine Logistics Group. For example, the II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) is composed of a headquarters element, the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, all based on the East Coast.

The three Marine Expeditionary Forces are:

  • I Marine Expeditionary Force located at Camp Pendleton, California
  • II Marine Expeditionary Force located at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
  • III Marine Expeditionary Force located at Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan
Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB)
A Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) is larger than a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) but smaller than a MEF. The MEB is capable of conducting missions across the full range of military operations and varies in size. It is constructed around a reinforced infantry regiment, a composite Marine aircraft group, and a brigade service support group. The Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), commanded by a general officer (usually a Major General or sometimes a Brigadier General), is task-organized to meet the requirements of a specific situation. It can function as part of a joint task force, as the lead echelon of the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), or alone.
  • 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade located in California
  • 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade located in North Carolina
  • 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade located in Japan
Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)
The smallest type of MAGTF is the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The command element is the standing headquarters for the MEU, usually headed by a colonel. The ground combat element is a battalion landing team (BLT), which is composed of an infantry battalion reinforced with tanks, artillery, engineers, amphibious vehicles, light armored vehicles, and other ground combat assets. The air combat element is composed of a composite squadron of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft and an Air Traffic Control (ATC) and command and control detachment. The logistics combat element consists of a Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) which handles the logistics and administration needs of the MEU. The specific makeup of the MEU can be customized based upon the task at hand; additional artillery, armor, or air units can be attached, including squadrons of MV-22B Osprey and AV-8B Harrier jets.

There are usually three MEUs assigned to each of the U.S. Navy Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, with another MEU based on Okinawa. While one MEU is on deployment, one MEU is training to deploy and one is standing down, resting its Marines, and refitting.

  • 11th, 13th and 15th Marine Expeditionary Units located in California
  • 22nd, 24th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units located in North Carolina
  • 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit located in Japan