MSSG-26 Marines train in humanitarian assistance exercise

6 Apr 2001 | Cpl. Thomas Michael Corcoran

Marines training at Fort Pickett, Va., were getting restless April 6.  They were days from completing over two weeks of training and already thinking of home.

However, this did not stop them from fully applying themselves to their final exercise, the humanitarian assistance mission.  Humanitarian assistance, or HA, has become one of the most popular missions of Marine Expeditionary Units in today's world.

"I think to many people the idea of doing this thing isn't fun," said Sgt. Michael D. Teter, MEU Service Support Group-26 combat engineer.  But, the native of Akron, Ohio added, " I think once they understand that we're not doing this because someone gave them the order, we're doing this to complete a mission.  Once they realize that, they take pride."
The purpose of an HA is to help displaced persons that have been "left in the cold" for a variety of reasons from political to natural disaster.  Each Marine Expeditionary Unit is capable of processing and caring for 300 displaced persons for an average of two weeks. 

The scenario of this exercise was to set up an HA site in a country that was recently invaded.  The HA provided assistance to two religious groups, using Marines as the displaced persons, that had to be segregated.

The process seems simple, to give people immediate aid.  The first step is to search and screen, assuring the aid seekers are not carrying weapons or other things that may cause trouble in the camp.  The second stage is processing.  This includes getting identification and other information on such things as religion, and relationships if a family is seeking refuge.  Medical attention, food, supplies and shelter are among the other stages of processing the displaced persons will go through.

Although a simple process, urgent need of medical attention and unstable relations among the displaced persons within the assistance camp often create more complexities.

To add to the confusion a little more, the mass casualty drill was held in the middle of the exercise, and the Marines were not told about it until the last moment.  But like true warriors they used their ability to adapt and overcome. 
"This was supposed to be our crawl phase," said Maj. Kenneth M. Lasure, MSSG-26 executive officer.  He explained during a critic after the exercise that his Marines did exceptionally well pulling together during this surprise incident.  He said that this was supposed to be a learning experience and that's exactly what it was, even the old player learned something thanks to the excellent role players.

"Some of the role players should have gotten Oscars," exclaimed Capt. James F. Cherry, MSSG-26 maintenance platoon officer in charge.

For Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick O. Ebili, MSSG-26 corpsman, this MEU will be his second deployment with a Marine unit.  From his experience in the Marine Corps, he is very impressed with this unit.

"The [integration] process is going good.  The junior Marines are very cooperative," said Ebili.  "The CO's level of motivation and leadership has been outstanding."

Petty Officer 3rd Class Wayne Lewis, MSSG-26 religious program specialist, agreed that the Marines displayed a strong level of leadership.  "For a Pfc. or a lance corporal it would be really hard to stand around out here with the sergeant major driving tent stakes.  The new leadership is taking over in a very good way."

Many noticed the difference between this year and last year, including Gunnery Sgt. Tim R. Weber, MSSG-26 operations chief.  "This year our unit is tighter.  Everyone wants to be here and do good things."  Weber joked, "We've got a lot of smart people this year too."

"We're doing well.  We've had an aggressive two weeks of hard training," said Lt. Col. William M. Faulkner, MSSG-26 commanding officer.  "We've met the objective the whole way around and we're right in contact with our training plan, our objective.  We're real pleased."