USS KEARSARGE, At sea --
Sailing through the Fifth and Sixth Fleet areas of responsibility on three Navy vessels assigned to the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, Marines and sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit have made it to the halfway mark of returning home to their friends and family during their 2013 deployment.
The journey thus far has given the Marines and sailors an ample amount of experiences in various countries, presenting them unique opportunities they would not have had the chance to receive in any other situation.
“The MEU allows Marines and sailors to see different parts of the world and experience different cultures while conducting training that may help with real world contingencies,” said Maj. James T. Kay, fire support officer assigned to the 26th MEU. “Marines get to see places that most people only get to read about in a text book or see on a map. The places we visit carry a lot of history and to say you have been there and done that gives everyone a sense of accomplishment.”
Through the deployment, the Marines and sailors conducted unilateral, bilateral and multilateral training evolutions, taking place in countries such as France, Greece, Qatar and Jordan.
“Each nation has their own method of conducting business and so it allows our Marines and sailors to understand that while we are an elite fighting force, there are other foreign nations that are capable of accomplishing the mission even if it’s by their own method,” said Kay. “There will always be frustration and challenges when conducting these unique training opportunities but it allows us to build stronger, lasting relationships with the military and civilians of foreign countries.”
The success of the operations can be attributed to the extensive sixth months of pre-deployment training conducted after the MEU’s composite in the fall of 2012.
“The [pre-deployment training program] solidified standard operating procedures for all Marines and sailors down to the smallest unit,” said Kay. “It helped all reinforcements realize what did and did not work during the PTP. Like in everything, we made mistakes, but we took corrective actions so that when we actually have to execute a mission, we try not to make the same mistake twice. The biggest lesson learned is the many moving parts, including the ships and its movements, that require close and continuous coordination with all assets of the [Amphibious Ready Group] and MEU in order to facilitate successful missions.”
Before deploying, the 26th MEU was called into action to conduct humanitarian relief efforts in the New York Tri-State area in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“Hurricane Sandy showed that the MEU is able to pack, mobilize and deploy in a short amount of time to provide humanitarian assistance or disaster relief if necessary and has been one of the most utilized missions in past MEU deployments,” said Kay.
Although away from loved ones, the Marines and sailors haven’t forgotten their roots, the ones they left behind that chilly day in March as they left Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Stations New River or Cherry Point to embark upon the deployment.
“To keep in touch with my friends and family back home I try to write them letters at least once a week, or if I get to access a computer I email them,” said Cpl. Nhi Thach, a Gaithersburg, Md., native, and combat engineer assigned to Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th MEU. “I also try to call them at least once a week. They keep me going by saying how much they miss me. They are very supportive and give me words of advice to keep on going reminding me I will be back home soon. I also get packages from my girlfriend which always puts a smile on my face.”
Without knowing what to expect on the waters ahead, most everyone with the 26th MEU and its ARG counterpart can agree the light is visible at the end of the tunnel and it is all downhill from here.
Kay said, “There are a few more training evolutions for sustaining perishable skills and exercises planned for Theater Security Cooperation…that will help move time along on this deployment, but as the world turns, this can always be altered by those unpredictable occurrences in the world or natural disasters that require the MEU’s attention.”