USS SAIPAN, Atlantic Ocean -- Through five presidents and three decades the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has been making history and defending America's interest abroad.
Originally named the 36th Marine Amphibious Unit, the force began making history soon after its inception. In 1975, it became the first Marine unit to participate in a combined arms operation in Germany since World War I.
Over the next seven years the 36th MAU participated in various exercises and operations throughout the world until September, 1982, when they were renamed the 26th MAU. The unit spent its first years deploying to areas like the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Honduras and the Atlantic Ocean. This ended in 1985 when the 26th MAU began its rotational cycle as Landing Force Sixth Fleet, deploying to the Mediterranean region for the first time on Aug. 15.
It was in that same year that the 26th MAU became the first unit ever to earn the Special Operations Capable (SOC) designation. To date, the unit has successfully maintained its SOC designation in all of its qualification exercises. It was also in 1985 that the 26th MAU(SOC) became the first MAU to deploy with a detachment of AV-8B Harriers.
Three years later, on Feb. 5, 1988, the 26th MAU was renamed the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to highlight the unit's expeditionary nature.
Though the MEU's deployments to the Mediterranean usually lasted between five and six months long, in March 1991 requirements of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm created an unusually long seven-month deployment. Though not called upon to directly participate in the operations, the 26th MEU(SOC) was held in the Mediterranean to counter potential actions by pro-Iraqi nations. During that deployment, the 26th MEU(SOC) relieved the 22nd MEU on-station off the coast of Liberia, where the 22nd MEU(SOC) had begun a Noncombatant Evacuation Operation. There, they continued what would become the longest-running NEO in recent naval history, resulting in the evacuation of more than 2,400 people from over 60 nations.
After returning from one their longest deployments, the 26th MEU(SOC) set another first. Less than four months after their return, they deployed again, resulting in the shortest time between deployments in MEU history. In that deployment, the 26th MEU(SOC) was part of Operations Provide Promise, Deny Flight and Sharp Guard off the coast of Yugoslavia.
On July 10, 1994, the 26th MEU(SOC) was called away from the Sixth Fleet area of operation and south of the Equator into Somalia. There, they provided 30-day continuous contingency operation support as part of Operation Restore Hope. They were relieved by the 15th MEU(SOC) and returned to Mediterranean region.
Between 1995 and 1996, the 26th MEU(SOC) had two more historical first. In 1995, they became the first MEU to deploy with M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks, and in 1996 they became the first MEU to deploy with the Joint Task Force Enabler communications system.
In 1999, the flexible 26th MEU(SOC) provided security to refugee camps in Fier, Albania during Operation Shining Hope. At the same time, the unit participated in Operation Allied Force, the NATO bombing campaign over the former Republic of Yugoslavia. During that same deployment, the 26th MEU(SOC) acted as the initial entry force into Kosovo and conducted peacekeeping/peace enforcing operations as part of Operation Joint Guardian. Less than a month after this mission's completion, the 26th MEU(SOC) provided support to the Turkish government after a massive earthquake in that country.
Currently, the 26th MEU(SOC) is beginning its first Mediterranean deployment for the year 2000. The unit's commanders said that if the past is any indication, the future could provide anything.
"There's a lot going on over there," said LtCol. Gary Oles, 26th MEU(SOC) Executive Officer. "Just look at the recent activity in the Balkans and off the coast of Africa. Anything can happen, which is why we remain so flexible."
Colonel Kenneth J. Gleuck, Jr., 26th MEU(SOC) Commanding Officer, who also commanding the 26th MEU(SOC) during their recent deployment into Kosovo, Albania and Turkey, stresses that the unit could be called upon at a moment's notice.
"My take is that I don't have a very good track record of getting liberty," he said. "So I would say that (this deployment) will probably be fairly busy."