MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Take a long look at any championship team in professional or collegiate sports and you will find one common ingredient: the will to win. While the three-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers have superstars Shaquille O'Neil and Kobe Bryant and the New York Yankees have enjoyed the services of Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens, these teams did not earn their rings based solely upon their talent. They earned their championships because they trained to win.
This past April, the Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) returned from a "winning season" after participating in combat operations in Operation Enduring Freedom. Among the many contributing factors that led to their noteworthy successes in Afghanistan, their commitment to do the hard work that quality pre-deployment training requires was key to the operation.
Today, another deployment looms across the ever-expanding horizon as a new batch of ball players, Battalion Landing Team 1/8, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264, MEU Service Support Group 26 and a reassembled MEU Command Element, put on their game faces for the hard work that is to come. While the vast majority of these new players know how to play the game, the "MEU League" is a different ball club and each player will need to not only apply his or her individual talent, but also fulfill their role within the team to make everyone better.
"We (the Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU) are very fortunate in that we have a commanding officer [Col. Andrew P. Frick] who has recently completed a successful MEU (SOC) deployment that tested every facet of the MEU's capability," said Lt. Col. John DelColliano, 26th MEU executive officer.
"Based upon this experience, the MEU commander made some tweaks to our existing pre-deployment training program which should better prepare us for whatever may lie ahead," he said. "Some of these changes include additional training and support for scout swimmers as well as more school seats for the Helicopter Rope Suspension Training and Assault Climber Courses for our subordinate units."
"We are training to be combat ready, no matter what the contingency," said Lt. Col. David Hough, the commanding officer for BLT 1/8 (Rein), the ground combat element of the 26th MEU. "We need to be prepared for anything from humanitarian assistance operations to wide-open military conflict."
In order to meld the disparate units of the MEU into one synchronized, cohesive team, the MEU Commander and the Special Operations Training Group of the II Marine Expeditionary Force use a "building block approach." Beginning with refinement of individual skills, the training package slowly but deliberately melds the major subordinate elements into a cohesive fighting force before finally employing the entire MEU-ARG Team.
Critical to the refinement of these individual skills is the Fort A.P. Hill training package that took place during late July in northeast Virginia. The three-week exercise allowed individual Marines and small unit leaders the opportunity to work on small unit tactics, basic infantry skills, base level combat service support, etc. Additionally, it allowed major subordinate commands such as BLT 1/8 and MSSG 26 to work together for the first time thereby learning how to better support one another.
While all of this cooperation and training took place in the trenches, supporting them from the air was the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264(Reinforced), a composite helicopter squadron reinforced by six AV-8B Harrier "jumpjets." Just as combat logisticians learn the preferred time and place for resupplying a light-armored BLT 1/8 convoy, the pilots and crewmembers of the aviation combat element strive to learn how to better support the ground units with everything from close air support to aerial resupply to troop transportation.
For many in this squadron, their players have never played in a "MEU ballgame." However, their commander believes that they still have what it takes to make an all-star team. "The MEU is way ahead of the ball game," said Lt. Col William Wainwright, commanding officer for HMM-264 (Rein). "The professional and competence of everyone in the ACE and across the MEU is far beyond 'squared away' from the very beginning."
With so many new faces in the mix, Wainwright said that at the individual Marine's level, the training might seem far more challenging early in the workup phase as the goal of small units leaders becomes the establishment of a baseline capability. Once everyone gets their individual skills up to an even par, the schedule will drive Marines to learn how to support the rest of the 26th MEU as well.
As with any team, spring training cannot begin without logistical support. Without gloves, bats, balls and uniforms, the New York Yankees could not take the field, nor could the 26th MEU take to the field without purified drinking water, food, ammunition, hygiene facilities, aviation and diesel fuel and other such critical assets. Providing this support is MEU Service Support Group-26 under the command of Lt. Col. John Hahn.
With only four Marines remaining who served with the 26th MEU (SOC) during Operation Enduring Freedom, the MSSG has also had to start over on refining their standing operating procedures and training objectives to meet the goal of continuous combat service support. "Regardless of what may lie ahead, we will train hard to meet our support roles for both [non-Special Operations Capable] and SOC missions," Hahn said.
As with any potential championship team, assembling the players is only half the battle. The key aspect comes in their gelling into an integrated group of professionals focused on the same objectives. When the game is on the line and practices are long concluded, the 26th MEU will be ready to come out swinging yet again as the 26th MEU (SOC).
"The thing I am most excited about this upcoming deployment is being able to watch the MEU transform itself before my very eyes from a group of well-trained individuals into the cohesive, war-fighting team that it will be by the time the [Special Operations Capable Certification Exercise] comes around," said DelColliano. "This is why we become Marines."
For more information on the 26th MEU, visit www.26meu.usmc.mil.