26th MEU(SOC) Force Reconnaissance uses time at sea to train

24 Aug 2000 | Cpl. Derek A. Shoemake

With little training space and land often more than a hundred miles away, staying combat ready aboard ship is not always easy.

Force Reconnaissance is not supposed to be easy.

According to Capt. Robert Bailey, Officer-in-Charge of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)'s Force Reconnaissance detachment, the mission of the detachment is divided into green and black side reconnaissance. The green side refers to the unit's ability to perform deep reconnaissance and surveillance more than 100 miles into an area of operation.
In black side reconnaissance, the unit serves as the actual raid force, able to selectively destroy or capture a target.

Bailey said it's how they conduct this two-fold mission which separates force reconnaissance from other units.

"These guys can dive in, swim in, parachute in, but the meat is their action when they get there," said the Chevy Chase, Md., native. "For recon and surveillance, they have the ability at a relative young rank to know what a Colonel or other commander wants to know. They're his eyes on a potential target.

"One week later they could pull out of the bush and conduct a precision raid to take over a ship carrying contraband.

"Overall, when it comes to patrolling, there's not a unit in the military that can touch reconnaissance Marines."

Deploying aboard ship creates unique opportunities and challenges for the constant training the unit needs to stay that sharp.

One of the major advantages of training aboard ship is the almost constant availability of helicopters and various watercrafts the unit uses during actual missions.

However, Bailey said that given all the things going on at any one moment aboard ship, coordinating a time for training, such as live-fire exercises off the flight deck, could be difficult.

Still, that has not stopped Bailey and his Marines from conducting more than 16 training exercises in less than two months, to include a vessel board, search and seizure, fast roping, close quarters battle, helicopter casting and sniper training.

Overall, Bailey said the most difficult part of training aboard ship is getting his Marines to ease up.

"They have a burning desire to train," he said. "They take it personally. It's more like pulling teeth to get them to slow down.

Everyone in this unit chose to be in Force Reconnaissance. They demand their leaders provide them with the training and adventure they came here for."

Other members of the detachment said the training offers visible results.

"It makes you a jack of all trades," said SSgt. Antonio Zavala, Los Angeles, Calif. native and assistant communications chief with the unit. "You have to prove yourself constantly to be in a unit like this. It's not do it once and you're done. That what makes us good at what we do."

The process of getting there may be tough, but according to Sgt. Charles Snyder, team leader and Lock Haven, Penn., native, it is just as enjoyable.

"We get to do the stuff I think about when I picture the Marine Corps," he said. "We're always doing something fun and exciting."

Bailey, who said he spends more time supervising than hitting the objective with his Marines, sometimes gets jealous.

"I have to keep reminding myself its not always my job to be (out with) the guys," he laughed. "Actually, I have a lot of the staff NCOs reminding me of that too. So I do a lot of living vicariously through them.

"It is fun for me to see them challenged and training hard. It just so happens, by the way, that the training is fun."

The 26th MEU(SOC)'s Force Reconnaissance detachment next training evolution will finally take them away from the ship and into the country of Slovenia, where they will practice their mountain climbing skills.