"Crawl, walk, run" approach to Stand-Up

9 Mar 2001 | Cpl. Thomas Michael Corcoran

Four distinct elements, a Command Element, a Ground Combat Element, an Aviation Combat Element and a Combat Service Support Element will stand-up officially as one combined arms team when the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit forms March 19. The units, which have been training separately up to this point, will be officially training together as part of the MEU pre-deployment program (PDP) to prepare them for their turn in the Mediterranean later this year. The significance of the MEU standup is punctuated by the increased capabilities of the Command Element, according to Col. Andrew P. Frick, 26th MEU commanding officer. Prior to the official stand up, the command element stands alone much like a skeleton missing its muscles and parts. He explained that the addition of the components allow the MEU to perform its mission and that detachments the Command Element receives, such as the radio battalion, expand on the organic capabilities of the command. Frick said once the MEU has come together, the bond between the Marines of the separate elements becomes much stronger. "Any business relationship becomes a social relationship to a certain extent," said Frick. "The better you understand your counterparts, the better you understand how you can help them and how they can help you." Before the official standup, the elements are busy receiving Marines from other units and ensuring that they have their required training.Lt. Col. William M. Faulkner, MEU Service Support Group 26 commanding officer said, "We're trying to come together as a team as quickly as possible." Faulkner said the first aspect of training actually comes before the standup, and is made up of annual training requirements such as the rifle range and gas chamber. Private First Class Adam E. Long, MSSG-26 light armored vehicle mechanic, has recently returned from a Battle Skills Training course as part of his unit's preparation for the standup. The native of Salem, Ohio, said that preparing for the workups not only involves getting himself ready to go, it involves making ensure gear and vehicles are "good to go." Echoing this sentiment was Lance Cpl. Greg T. Napora, ACE crew chief. "We're doing maintenance on the planes," the Marine from San Bruno, Calif., said. "We're doing tests on them, making sure there are no leaks. We're ready to go." The increased operations tempo has not affected safety or the safety procedures explained Lt. Col. Kevin M. Devore, ACE commanding officer. He explained that Marines follow operational risk management procedures. He said just because they're busy doesn't mean they change their safety procedures. However, something that will change is the increased responsibility of non-commissioned officers, said Sgt. Maj. William McKnight, MEU sergeant major. "The workups will test NCOs in all areas of skill and leadership, and that's what the workups mean to any Marine, a test," said McKnight. "What excites me the most about this deployment is seeing young Marines out there doing their jobs." In a deployed situation, Marines "doing their job" means being prepared to carry out any type of mission they are called for. Whether it is a peacekeeping or humanitarian mission, MEU Marines are there first, said Sgt. Maj. William H. Bly, MSSG-26 sergeant major. "I've always admired the FEBA [Forward Edge of the Battle Area]," said Bly. "Floating around in the Mediterranean is the closest thing to the FEBA. I'm looking forward to it." "I've been in 23 years. What made us what we are, is our ability to be there when the world calls on us," said Bly. And many of the Marines have been called on in the past. Long said he is definitely more comfortable having veterans aboard the MEU. Kosovo veterans make up a significant number of the ACE and there are some throughout the other elements of the MEU. There's only a "sprinkle" of Gulf War veterans aboard the MEU, said Lt. Col. Gary R. Oles, MEU executive officer. Although many Marines agree that if called on for action, the veterans' experience will create a calming effect for the younger Marines, Oles is confident in the training of his young Marines. The training of the young Marines is paramount. They are the Marines who receive the orders and carry them out, according to Long. He said he is excited to see how the separate elements of the MEU will come together during the standup. Like his MSSG counterpart Long, Napora often reflects back to historic events when he thinks of Marines deploying. Napora explained that because he is in the ACE, his thoughts of Marines deploying go all the way back to the WWII Island Hopping Campaign. "I don't know if they were [deployed] before," said Napora, "but it's the first time I can think of that Marine aviators were deployed." Devore said he is proud to be a part of the MEU. "Marines have been deploying since 1775. It's our way of life." Another chapter will be written into the lore of the Corps March 19, when the 26th MEU, like many generations of Marines before them, come together to do what must be done and remain vigil at the tip of the spear.