ABOARD USS BATAAN -- When it comes time for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism, there is a daunting task to be overcome before the versatile air-ground task force can depart: getting the unit's 2,200 Marines and Sailors onto the ships of the Bataan Strike Group, which will transport and support them throughout the deployment.
Add to this the challenges of moving and stowing approximately 300 combat and support vehicles, more than 100 tons of cargo and gear, plus a squadron of Marine aircraft, a logistical nightmare could easily occur.
The solution to these issues comes from the MEU's embarkation sections and Landing Force Shore Party detachment.
A successful onload begins with careful planning in the MEU embark sections, said Staff Sgt. Dale M. Daniken, embark chief for the 26th MEU Command Element, which acts in a supervisory role throughout the embark and onload planning process..
Each of the MEU's Major Subordinate Elements, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced); Combat Logistics Battalion-26; and Battalion Landing Team 2nd Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment, has an embark representative who is responsible for communicating their unit's onload needs to the Command Element.
Good communication among the embark sections is paramount, because the MEU's elements all need to work together to devise an accurate plan in getting the unit's troops and equipment to the ships and store them onboard, said Daniken.
Once the MEU has determined how and where its going to move its personnel and gear, executing the embarkation plan at the onload site falls on the LFSP, which is part of CLB-26, the MEU's logistics element.
Control of the onload changes hands from the embark sections to the LFSP at a pre-stage area, where the vehicles and cargo to be embarked are inspected and organized into "sticks" to expedite their onload at the beach.
The LFSP is responsible for facilitating the movement of packs, cargo, gear, personnel and vehicles from shore to ship, said Cpl. Kevin W. Myers, a longshoreman with the MEU's LFSP and a native of Avon Park, Fla.
He added that continual training and rehearsals of onloads have made the Marines in his detachment ready for nearly any challenge an embark might present.
"Everyone out here has a complete understanding about what's going on and how to accomplish the mission to the fullest extent," he said.
The actual moving of the MEU's troops, vehicles and cargo from shore to ship is done by Landing Crafts, Air-Cushioned (LCACs) and Landing Crafts, Utility (LCUs), both Navy amphibious transport vehicles,.
Despite already having the personnel and equipment necessary to conduct a successful embark, the onload plans for the MEU's upcoming deployment continue to be constructed and refined, said Daniken.
"The course of action for our deployment onload has been ongoing since January," he explained. "Its definitely not a short-term process."
The 26th MEU is currently in the midst of its Expeditionary Strike Group Integration Training, aboard the ships of the Bataan Strike Group.
The exercise is part of the MEU's challenging six-month pre-deployment training program, which will culminate in a scheduled 2007 deployment.
For more information on the 26th MEU, please visit www.26meu.usmc.mil.