ABOARD USS KEARSARGE -- Approximately 200 Marines and sailors from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) recently concluded a month-long training evolution in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia designed to enhance the cooperative abilities of U.S. and Saudi forces in combating terrorism and setting conditions for security and stability in the region.
Forces from the MEU that participated in the exercise included a portion of Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 8th Marines, reinforced with a combined anti-armor team (CAAT), light armored vehicles, a squad from the 81mm mortar platoon and a detachment from India Battery; Force Reconnaissance Platoon; a detachment from MEU Service Support Group-26; a rotary-wing detachment from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-162; and a detachment from the MEU's command element.
The training detachment disembarked from the ships of the Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group in the Arabian Gulf June 19 to begin training events with Saudi forces that included staff planning, close-quarters battle, heavy machine gun live fire, mortar live fire, helicopter operations, convoy operations and sniper live fire.
Marines from Echo Co. joined with their Saudi counterparts to conduct a progressive series of tactical training events beginning with basic live-fire familiarization on the full array of weapon systems organic to the MEU's ground combat element. The combined training progressed through squad and platoon size fire and movement ranges and assaults in urban combat ranges.
Force Recon Marines from the MEU had an opportunity to display some of their techniques in weapons employment and urban assault. They worked closely with the Saudi forces, sharing their experience in breaching, close-quarters battle and other specialized tactics.
Marines from MSSG-26 helped maintain the entire force ashore by coordinating and managing the surface flow of supplies and personnel between USS Ponce and the eastern shores of Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the service support Marines provided overland support for forces operating in two separate locations ashore. Their expertise was utilized to provide the combined forces training in convoy operations.
Throughout the exercise, a detachment of helicopters from HMM-162 supported the forces from ashore and aboard USS Ponce by transporting troops and supplies, providing fast rope and assault support, and maintaining a medical evacuation capability in the event of injury to any of the Marines ashore.
The MEU's command element detachment, comprised primarily of communications Marines and liaison personnel, were a key piece in the Saudi training as they kept the MEU command aboard USS Kearsarge appraised of the ongoing training while coordinating the ongoing training with the Saudis.
"I think the key benefits that both sides took away from the bilateral training was a much better understanding of each other as individuals as well as a significant overall increase in exposure to the respective cultures," said Lt. Col. Dean E. Craft, the MEU's detachment commander in Saudi Arabia. "Prior to the training, very few partisans on either side had any first hand knowledge of the other. We left, however, realizing that in many ways we are all alike."
The training concluded July 18 with a final exercise that involved the informal evaluation of U.S. and Saudi forces conducting a coordinated attack on a company objective. Following the final exercise was a completion ceremony attended by the MEU commander, Col. Thomas F. Qualls, Amphibious Squadron-8 commodore, Capt. Edward Barfield, and several senior ranking military officers and officials from Saudi Arabia.
The 26th MEU (SOC) is now continuing its mission as the theater reserve for U.S. Central Command.
For more information on the log on to www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.