MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- It’s been about six months since the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit last returned from abroad and a quick glance at the headquarters at Building H-23 might lead the casual observer to believe that not much is going on in the unit.
A closer look, however, reveals that the MEU is moving at a blistering pace preparing for the coming training cycle that will prepare the unit to deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
Slated to depart in early 2007 as a part of the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group, the MEU is using this time before the pre-deployment training cycle begins in June to augment its current contingent of 93 Marines and Sailors with individual training courses, said 1st Lt. Shawn A. Rickrode, 26th MEU training officer.
"The training and preparation never stops," said Rickrode. "We train like we fight."
Across the MEU, personnel are attending, or are scheduled to attend, a variety of training evolutions including shallow water egress training, urban combat skills training, advanced marksmanship and HUMVEE driver training.
This is also the time when the MEU staff members hone their crisis planning skills and ensure the unit is administratively and logistically sound.
For everyone, it is a time to focus on annual training requirements such as rifle and pistol qualification and nuclear, biological and chemical training.
Many of the MEU's enlisted leaders are improving their skills by attending resident courses such as the corporal’s course and the career course. Rickrode said the education the non-commissioned and staff non-commissioned officers are receiving will pay dividends to the MEU in the form of the tactical, technical and leadership experience they will bring back to the unit.
Rickrode also noted that MEU Service Support Group-26, which will serve as the MEU’s combat service support element during the coming deployment, has provided MEU personnel valuable slots in courses such as urban skills, convoy leadership training and advanced marksmanship. These quotas can be hard to come by for smaller units such as the MEU Command Element and will provide its personnel with training that otherwise may have been unavailable.
The MEU’s data and communications section, or S-6, is an example of the continuous activity happening in the unit right now.
The shop currently has eight of its 24 troops attending various training courses including Arabic language training, convoy leader training, corporal's course and HUMVEE driver training, said Sgt. Corey C. Reyes, radio supervisor and S-6 platoon sergeant.
"Each Marine from our section who attends these schools will act as a force multiplier for us," said Reyes. "One Marine learns something new, and he or she can pass it on to the rest of us."
Reyes also said that his section is scheduled to conduct a communication training exercise in the field each month before the MEU stands-up.
All the preparation is in anticipation of "chop day," when the MEU will balloon to over 2,000 troops overnight. Once that happens, the focus of the unit will turn toward tactically preparing the MEU, with its major subordinate elements, for deployment.
Those MSEs will include a ground combat element, an air combat element and a combat service support element. The ground element will consist primarily of the “Warlords” of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.
The air combat element will be the "Black Knights" of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264, reinforced with Harriers and attack and heavy-lift helicopters, and the combat service support element will be Combat Logistics Battalion-26, currently designated as MSSG-26.
So while the 26th MEU may seem quiet at this stage of the game, the reality is that it is one of the busiest times for the now small unit.
When the curtain goes up in June, the real show will begin. That is when the MEU anticipates its current preparations will have formed the foundation for a successful training cycle and deployment.