FORT A.P. Hill, Va. -- Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Combat Logistics Battalion - 26 and Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment, conducted a railhead operation July 12 - 13 near Fort A.P. Hill, in support of combat exercises the 26th MEU is conducting as part of its pre-deployment training.
Thunderstorms, crude working conditions, and train delays never dampened the spirits of the Marines and Sailors, even as the planned one-day operation stretched into a second day.
A railhead operation is a movement of troops or supplies by rail, and can be subject to delays when the military doesn't directly control the railways, said Lt. Col. Chris A. Arantz, commanding officer of CLB-26.
Once the train arrived, the railhead bustled with activity as the Landing Force Shore Party Marines, known as "Red Patches" for the small red rectangles which adorn their uniform, directed the offload of 14 Assault Amphibian Vehicles (AAVs); four M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks; six M198, 155 mm Howitzers; an M88A2 tank retriever; an AAV-R7 AAV retriever; a MK48/15 Recovery Vehicle; a MK48/16/870 tractor trailer; a tram; and a Direct Support Electronic Test Set (DSETS) van.
"The Fort A.P. Hill exercise was the first time elements of the MEU had the opportunity to integrate, and the railhead operation was the CLB and BLT working together to accomplish a mission," said Arantz.
Arantz also said it was a good chance to practice rail operations.
"We rarely do rail operations in-theatre, but Landing Support Marines need to be able to do it as part of our Mission Essential Task List (METL)," he said, adding, "We did it in the Balkans in 2001."
Unloading the equipment was only the first step in the operation: Marines and Sailors then conducted convoy operations to get the equipment to a staging area aboard Fort A.P. Hill.
The MEU coordinated with local law enforcement authorities to safely shuttle the hulking armored vehicles and artillery pieces down narrow roads and across intersections.
Residents and curious onlookers watched and waved to the crewmen as the equipment rumbled past their houses in the mid-afternoon heat and humidity.
Chief Warrant Officer - 2 Dominic L. Frederick, embarkation officer for CLB-26, praised the operation.
"[The operation] was outstanding. There were no injuries and coordination with local authorities went well; the biggest issue was the rail itself," he said.
Corporal Matthew D. Schiltz, longshoreman in the Landing Force Shore Party, agreed with Frederick's assessment of the operation.
"It's gone smoothly, safely, and efficiently," he said. "Delays are typical. Offloading takes no time at all, but you have to wait for the trains."
He added, "The operation was a success - we had a good crew out here."
The training here begins the 26th MEU's six-month pre-deployment training process, designed to meld the MEU into a cohesive, rapid reaction force. The 26th MEU will continue to prepare for an early 2007 deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
For more information on the 26th MEU, go to www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.