TIRANE-RINAS, Albania -- For the Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), training in Albania offers a wealth of opportunities. With extensive MEU-wide live-fire training, explosive ordnance disposal operations, integrated air traffic control, military police training, convoy and combat sustenance operations - all woven into a two-week bilateral training exercise with the Albanian military forces - this exercise affords the 26th MEU (SOC) critical combat skills training alongside a key U.S. ally in the region.
Having conducted recent combat operations in Mosul, Iraq and drawing upon the lessons learned from other coalition forces having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 26th MEU (SOC) sought to create a training exercise that worked every element of the MEU with specific emphasis on combat service support of secure convoy procedures.
"From a combat service support perspective, our main focus was to get the Marines out, exercise all of their equipment that has been aboard ship for the past two months and keep these Marines' technical skills proficient in a number of areas," said Lt. Col. John R. Hahn, the commanding officer for the MEU Service Support Group-26.
With particular emphasis on convoy security procedures and combat sustenance over long distances in a hostile environment, the MSSG developed a training plan in accordance with the MEU Commander's guidance, which addressed these difficult logistical and security challenges with all the elements of the 26th MEU (SOC).
"What we do in training for combat sustenance is the same as we do in combat; there really is no difference," Hahn said. "But military convoy security is always a concern for us and one of the benefits that we have in the MEU is the ability to integrate organic close air support and ground elements to create a very hard target for a potential enemy," said the Camden, Del., native.
One of the critical lessons learned from coalition forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom was the importance of convoy security. The ability of an adversary to sever critical supply lines or disrupt rear area operations can have devastating effects on the momentum of a campaign and could cause the attacking force to retract its forces to protect key supply lines. Additionally, the impact of such an attack upon unit morale cannot be overstated.
For these reasons, the 26th MEU (SOC) reexamined its convoy security procedures and ensured the inclusion of air cover from AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopters, UH-1N Huey helicopters and AV-8B Harrier jump jets as well as support from Combined Anti-Armor Teams from the MEU's Ground Combat Element, Hahn said.
"Among the things that we learned from Iraq was the importance of this integrated approach to convoy operations. While utilizing air cover for our convoys was not necessarily a lesson learned, for example, it was something that we haven't had many opportunities to practice during the pre-deployment work-ups," said Hahn.
In addition to convoy operations, the Marines of MSSG-26 and the rest of the Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU (SOC) will have had an opportunity to conduct numerous live-fire training events and unit specific training during this exercise, oftentimes alongside their Albanian military counterparts.
When describing his goals for his Marines and Sailors' training in Albania, Hahn said that he wanted them to accomplish three main goals. First, for every Marine or Sailor to exercise his or her equipment, ensuring that it is still functional.
"Oftentimes, being on a ship tends to cause your hoses, seals, belts, etc., to dry out and wear thin," Hahn said. "We want to identify those now and fix them while we have the time to do so."
Second, Hahn said that he wants to exercise the Marines themselves. While many of his Marines and Sailors did not get to go into Iraq during the MEU's recent deployment there, they still did all they could to support operations there and to ensure that the Marines had what they needed when they needed it, he said.
And third, most importantly, Hahn strove to return everyone safely to the ships with a renewed confidence in their gear, their technical proficiency and in each other.
"We integrated a few of the lessons learned in Iraq, but everything else in terms of military police support, supply, maintenance, water production, basic sustenance operations are all routine. Being able to enjoy the hospitality of the Albanian people and utilize these training ranges while practicing our craft of combat service support has been just great. I'm very proud of all of my Marines and Sailors and everyone in the 26th MEU (SOC) team."
To learn more about Hahn and his Marines and Sailors of MSSG-26 or the 26th MEU (SOC), visit them on the web at www.26meu.usmc.mil.