SIBENIK, Croatia -- It could mean performing oral surgery in the middle of a weapons range, or purifying enough water to fill 50 bathtubs a day.
When it comes to keeping one of America's most deployed forces equipped, fed, housed and healthy, the jobs of Marines and Sailors from Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 26 can mean having to do anything.
"Like any unit, we have to train so we're ready to do those jobs at a moment's notice," said GySgt. Timothy Weber, operations chief with MSSG-26 and Cincinnati, Ohio native.
That opportunity to train came when the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and USS Austin conducted a bilateral training evolution with the Croatian military. In this historic first ever U.S./Croatian cross-training exercise, MSSG-26 saw an opportunity to deploy a majority of their forces ashore, something they had not done since their Mediterranean deployment began almost three months ago.
Their training started with a convoy of nearly two dozen vehicles loaded with the equipment that would allow MSSG-26 to establish a Combat Service Support Area at a Croatian weapons range. In a real-world operation, the CSSA would serve as the major supply point for other units within the 26th MEU(SOC).
According to Maj. Ken Lassure, MSSG-26 Executive Officer, the CSSA allowed Marines from many of the almost 75 Military Occupational Specialties within the MSSG to train by performing their jobs.
"It's been fantastic," he said. "Not just from a training standpoint either. Since we're working with the Croatian military, this is giving them a chance to see what we're capable of."
For example, MSSG's Corpsmen and Dental Technicians set up a field medical facility. Within two days the Corpsmen had seen several patients and sutured a cut, while the Dental Technicians removed a tooth.
"Here we are, in the middle of nowhere, and we're doing basic surgical stuff with no problem," said DT3 Jesse Orozco, Paramount, Calif. native and Dental Technician with MSSG-26.
"It was impressive," said Croatian Army Cpl. Nikola Vuokovic. "They come to the field and can do all types of things. They even have things that make this place look like a home."
Many of the creature comforts that impressed Vuokovic came courtesy of the various sections within MSSG-26's Engineering Platoon.
Sergeant Bryan Lankford, Federalsburg, Md. native and Water Purification Chief, used his Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU) to turn more than 2,000 gallons of salt water into drinking water. Though fresh water was available, the Croatians brought in barrels of salt water so Lankford could practice the purification process.
Lankford was also one of the Marines responsible for setting up the field shower unit where, in spite of the 20-degree mornings, Marines and Sailors could wash with warm water.
Sergeant Jeffrey Metcalf, electrical engineer and Newport, R.I. native, was responsible for the power that kept the showers hot, areas of the campsite lit and the computers in the operations center up and running.
"It's funny. Back on base or on the ship, people take electricity for granted," he said. "When you get out here, people really start to appreciate things like this.
"That makes coming out here exciting. One, I get to do my job. Two, I get to see people who really appreciate my doing it."
Metcalf was not alone in his excitement about coming to the field.
The MSSG's Bulk Fuelers kept the several vehicles on hand filled, while the Mechanics kept them all running. The Supply Platoon was responsible for the thousands of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) that were consumed during the operation. Communications Marines were in the operations center keeping lines open to USS Austin, and Operations Marines made sure everything fit together without a hitch.
"Every single Marine out there worked hard and did a great job," said Weber. "But it wasn't all work and no play."
During their time in the field, the Marines from MSSG-26 had the opportunity to fire Croatian weapons, like the AK-47 assault rifle.
"That was great for the Marines," said Lassure. "They not only had a chance to train, but they had a chance to meet service members from other countries and do things some people may never do their entire lives."
The Marines echoed those sentiments.
"No matter how well you know your job, practicing it out here always reinforces something," said Cpl. Russell Cready, Supply Clerk and Pittsburgh, Penn., native. "To be able to come out here, do that, and fire some cool weapons on top of it, that's even better."
The opportunity will present itself again soon. Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 26 is scheduled to conduct a similar field training exercise in early October.