CAMP BUEHRING,Kuwait -- After nearly a month on the ground in the Kuwait Desert, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) is packing up and heading back to sea, having completed live-fire training here that exercised the full spectrum of this Marine air ground task force’s capabilities.
At Udairi Range, the MEU incorporated its assets into a comprehensive exercise that focused heavily on small-unit tactics and coordinated-arms training. The vast ranges here, designed to mirror many of the conditions coalition forces face in the region, provided an ideal venue for each aspect of the training.
During the exercise the MEU expended more than 360,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition, (.50 caliber and below), more than 9,000 hand-thrown and machine gun-launched grenades, 450 mortar rounds, 200 tank rounds, 730 artillery shells, 70 rockets and missiles, and over 2500 pounds of high-explosive demolition material weighing in at more than 60 tons, according to data complied by the MEU ammunition chief Gunnery Sgt. James S. Brown.
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 162 logged more than 840 flight hours over the course of the training. Its pilots and aircrews flew 475 sorties in helicopters operating from Camp Buehring and AV-8B Harriers conducting security operations from the amphibious assault ship, USS Kearsarge (LHD 3).
MEU Service Support Group 26 had the huge task of sustaining the entire MEU during the training while also conducting small-unit and convoy proficiency training.
The Command Element maintained the majority of its command and control assets at Camp Buehring and also put time in on the ranges.
Among the most beneficial ranges at Udairi were the convoy live-fire and the military operations in urban terrain ranges where Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 8th Marines, the ground combat element for the MEU, focused much of their effort.
“The convoy live-fire range was probably the most applicable range, if you will, because it allowed the complete integration of the Marine air ground task force, to include air, tanks and fire support along with a myriad of realistic target opportunities such as pop-up targets, tank targets and the whole nine yards,” said the MEU commander Col. Thomas F. Qualls.
Overall, Qualls said the MEU had three objectives for the exercise. “We came here to refresh ourselves, harden ourselves and to be ready,” he said.
Though few would look at a grueling desert combat exercise as refreshing, the point was to get mentally refreshed, Qualls explained. The time in Kuwait allowed the Marines to break from the tight confines of ship life and perform their jobs as Marines.
“The conditions here, with the temperatures sometimes reaching 115 degrees, are pretty harsh, Qualls said. “But it’s the very conditions we will operate in as a MAGTF in this area of responsibility in the future. So we are definitely much more hardened then we were when we got here,” he said
The MEU commander said the Marines and sailors are now more ready than ever to assume the role of the strategic reserve for U.S. Central Command. This mission brings with it a multitude of potential operations the MEU must be prepared to execute on a moments notice.
“That could be a non-combatant evacuation of a little-known country here in Central Command, it could mean heading straight into to Baghdad to reinforce operations going there or it could be a humanitarian relief mission somewhere in the AOR.” He said.
Though Qualls admitted that prior to deployment he expected the entire MEU to be engaged in operations in Iraq by this point, he sees the unit maintaining its role as the theater reserve as a positive indicator of successful operations in the newly liberated country.
“If you would have asked me six months ago where we were going, I would have said the whole MEU was going into Iraq. That’s what I emphasized, and that is what we prepared for during the pre-deployment workups,” Qualls said.
“Times have changed, and it’s a positive indication that the full compliment of the 26th MEU is not going into Iraq. That’s not to say that we can’t or won’t in the future, but for now we are not. I can tell you that we are conditioned and prepared for the strategic reserve and any mission that comes with it.”
To follow the 26th MEU (SOC) throughout the rest of its deployment, log on to www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.