FORT PICKETT, Va. -- Twenty-four Marines from the "Black Knights" of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, took a break from the intensive training being carried out here, during the Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise, to pay a visit to the Petersburg, Va., Salvation Army youth group.
The Marines flew from the base airfield to the youth center in a pair of CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters, landing on a field outside the center before dozens of area children and teenagers.
After touching down, the Leathernecks set up static displays featuring flak jackets, M4 carbines, M9 pistols and PRC-117 and 119 radios.
The kids were excited by the Marines' equipment, uniforms, and especially their weapons.
"I thought the whole thing was awesome," said Justin Roy, a teen from Petersburg, as he hoisted an M4 carbine. "I think it's great that these [Marines] took the time to come out and see us."
The devil dogs' battle gear was not the only military equipment on display at the event. The helicopters the Marines' flew in on were a constant source of amazement and excitement for the youth group as they got up close and personal with the aircraft.
The experience was a great opportunity for the Marines to give a little to the community and show the caring side of the Marine Corps, said Staff Sgt. Lance Gruben, platoon sergeant with the MEU's Low Altitude Air Defense Platoon.
For other Marines, such as Sergeant Joel G. Steinmetz, a crew chief with HMM-264 (Rein.), participating in the event was a source of great pride.
"It's great," said the Pottstown, Penn., native. "I know when I was a kid I would have loved to have had a couple of helicopters to climb on."
To the Marines and event coordinators, the event was more than just an opportunity to excite the youth group with military equipment.
The visit was a great help to the group's mission of providing positive influences on young peoples' lives, said Marsha Brown, the Petersburg Salvation Army social services coordinator.
"We see a great need to do things so these youth can see there's more to life than just what they see around here," she said. "This has helped give these kids something to aspire to."
The 26th MEU continues to train here during the MEUEX and Training in an Urban Environment Exercises until Oct. 6 when the unit will return to North Carolina before continuing its rigorous, six-month pre-deployment training program with the ships of the Bataan Strike Group.
The MEU is scheduled to deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism in early 2007.
For more information on the 26th MEU, visit www.26meu.usmc.mil