ABOARD USS BATAAN -- More than 80 service members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit left behind the comfort and familiarity of Camp Lejeune, N.C., for a group sail aboard USS Bataan (LHD 5) and USS Shreveport (LPD 12) April 24-28.
The operation, which primarily served as an introduction to ship life for Marines who are new to the unit and as a refresher for those who have previous shipboard experience, marked the first time the MEU has been to sea since returning from a six-month deployment in November 2005 as a part of the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Expeditionary Strike Group.
The sail caused Marines who had yet to experience shipboard life to balance their first experiences on ship against what they had been told to expect by Marines who had spent time at sea.
"Everyone kept telling me that I was going to be hitting my head all over the place," said Pfc. Brian D. Anderson, a 6-foot-3-inch tall administrative clerk for the MEU. "Surprisingly, I haven't had any problems, although space is pretty tight on board."
Anderson was not the only Marine who came aboard expecting close quarters.
"I was told to expect to be cramped, bored and hungry," said Pfc. Ryan L. Leslie, 26th MEU supply admin clerk. "But really, it's not that bad. It's all what you make it, and the crew has been really easy to work with."
The Marines found that the good relations they formed with the crew were helped by learning ship layout and daily shipboard operations.
The Marines need to know what actions to take during ship drills and to stay out of the crews' way while they are going on, said Cpl. Michael T. Rosa, 26th MEU radio operator and a veteran of the MEU's last deployment.
The Sailors who participated in the exercise also benefited from the joint operations during the underway period, said Navy Lt. Brad R. Nalitt, Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 2 communications officer.
"I think the Sailors like the opportunity to work with the Marines," said Nalitt. "They're working together to accomplish a mission, and the Marines bring a lot of expertise in systems we're not used to working with."
The Bataan crew had yet to work with a full unit of Marines onboard and the exercise gave them the opportunity to become familiar with the MEU.
The planning staffs of the MEU and the PHIBRON used the sail to begin identifying how they will work together in the future.
"The operation has been an opportunity for the MEU staff to work with the PHIBRON staff in developing our standard operating procedures and refining our rapid response planning process," said Maj. Kevin S. Minton, the 26th MEU's Staff Judge Advocate, who also served as Commander of Troops for the unit during the sail.
"The ship has been very receptive to us, and very helpful," he said. "If we continue like we've started, we should have a good pre-deployment training period and a successful deployment."
Minton added that the MEU's successful identification of their Navy counterparts was one of the highlights of the operation and helped to prepare the unit for its scheduled 2007 deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.