CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Today, the Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit have reason to be proud, as the Commander, Marine Forces Atlantic, Lt. Gen. Martin R. Berndt, formally certified the 26th MEU as "Special Operations Capable" (SOC) following their evaluation during the Special Operations Capable certification Exercise (SOCEX) last month.
For these Marines and Sailors, a (SOC) certification not only means the formal culmination of a challenging and event-filled six month pre-deployment training period, but it also means that Lt. Gen. Berndt has given these warriors his stamp of approval on their ability to perform more than 20 different missions.
At a recent debrief on their performance during SOCEX, the senior SOCEX evaluator, Col. Lance Ledoux, said to the assembled staffs of the 26th MEU and their major subordinate elements, "I have no doubt of your ability to sustain combat operations almost indefinitely in a real-world situation based upon the staff integration and battle rhythm that you've established and demonstrated."
Faced with 19 graded events and mostly unfavorable weather conditions, MEU (SOC) Marines and Sailors were able to perform 18 of those missions, including 14 ship-to-shore missions and four missions from the beach. One precision AV-8B Harrier jumpjet air strike was cancelled due to poor weather. "The MEU's decision to push forces ashore on Nov. 10 saved four missions that would have had to have been rescheduled," Ledoux said.
In addition to performing simulated embassy evacuations, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel missions, several precision, mechanized, boat and heliborne raids and humanitarian assistance operations, 26th MEU (SOC) personnel strenuously exercised their command and control and rapid response planning capabilities as well.
"The fusion that exists between your intelligence and operations sections and the commander may be the best that I have ever seen," Ledoux said. "These elements were very well intertwined and the MEU's intelligence Marines, in particular, really seemed to have a solid handle on what was going on in the scenario at any given time. A couple of times, you were able to pick up potential targets and put personnel up against them before we had the opportunity to cancel them as they were intended to be decoys," Ledoux said.
"Additionally, the MEU Communications Officer and his staff performed extremely well during this exercise. The extensive use of radio relays, including use of the KC-130 transport airplanes and other stations, and the multiple and redundant communications that were briefed and utilized on nearly every mission were impressive," said Ledoux.
For the Commanding Officer of the 26th MEU (SOC), Col. Andrew P. Frick, this marks the second time a MEU under his command has earned the special operations capable certification. While everyone who goes 'downrange' has a sense that what they did at a given point in time in support of a mission was the right decision based upon their available information, Frick stressed that evaluations such as this are very useful to help his Marines and Sailors become an even better fighting force.
"Hopefully, when we walk away from this evaluation, we will have learned something that may help us do it better when we're called upon to perform real-world missions," Frick said.
The Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU (SOC) and USS IWO JIMA Amphibious Ready Group are tentatively scheduled to deploy early next year.
To see more photos from their recent SOCEX certification exercise, visit the MEU on the web at www.26meu.usmc.mil.