FORT PICKETT, Va. -- The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is now more prepared to perform expeditionary operations anywhere in the world.
The roughly 2,200 Marines and Sailors of the MEU completed almost two weeks of grueling training here on Oct. 6, during which the unit carried out two concurrent exercises.
The Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise was designed to prepare the 26th MEU's command and major subordinate elements (MSEs) for employment in Central Command's area of operations, and involved almost all the elements of the MEU.
The Training in an Urban Environment Exercise involved about 600 of the MEU's Marines and Sailors, including Marines from the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, and consisted of missions and raids on predetermined urban locations inside the Virginia cities of Blackstone, Petersburg, and Hopewell.
Both training exercises were a continuation of the 26th MEU's six-month predeployment training cycle that began in late June with the official activation of the 26th MEU.
The MEUEX training satisfied block training requirements required to operate in both Operation Enduring Freedom, and in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Capt. Shawn A. Rickrode, Force Protection Officer for the 26th MEU and an exercise controller for the MEUEX.
Rickrode and the other exercise controllers, collectively known as the "White Cell," planned the scenarios and missions during the MEUEX exercise.
He said the purpose of MEUEX was to challenge the MEU and test its ability to respond to certain situations.
"We're not looking to find weaknesses in their plans, but to put them in situations where they need to be able to react appropriately," said Rickrode.
During the MEUEX, Marines and Sailors worked and lived out of forward operating bases, conducted urban search operations, and learned to communicate and work with Middle-Eastern peoples. They were exposed to scenarios including indirect fire, improvised explosive devices, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, and other circumstances that may occur in a forward operating environment, Rickrode said.
The MEU employed a Hollywood special effects crew, complete with actors, makeup and pyrotechnics to make the training as realistic as possible.
Colonel Gregg A. Sturdevant, commanding officer of the 26th MEU, said he was happy with the work the MEU as a whole had done during the entire training evolution.
"This has been the best training the MSEs will get in this whole training cycle," he said, "it's going to pay huge dividends."
Marine expeditionary units traditionally hold the MEUEX at a facility in the western United States, where it is known as Mojave Viper, but since the 26th MEU is not necessarily tasked to go directly to CENTCOM's area of operations, it is instead doing the training in Va., said Capt. Ben Harrison, the 26th MEU's fire support officer and action officer for MEUEX.
Conducting a field exercise that involves a MEU isn't done on-the-fly; the White Cell began planning MEUEX in February for an exercise scheduled to begin in late September.
Captain Bill A. Keller, assistant air officer for the 26th MEU, said even with the extensive planning process, the exercise still involved a lot of improvisation as events unfolded.
Because the MEU ran both MEUEX and TRUEX simultaneously, the exercises required a lot of flexibility and multi-tasking, he said.
As the White Cell, Battalion Landing Team, Combat Logistics Battalion and Aviation Combat Element labored in support of the MEUEX, another team within the MEU took on the task of running the TRUEX portion of training.
This was the first time the MEU had ever run both the MEUEX and TRUEX at the same time.
MEUs have conducted two TRUEX exercises a year in cities in the Eastern United States since the mid-1980s, but this exercise was a little different.
While the purpose of the exercise was still to enhance the MEU's ability to gather, process, and act upon information with a small force in fast, precise raids upon very precise targets, the Marines carrying out the TRUEX operations were special, as in special-operations.
The 26th MEU traditionally uses a Marine Special Purpose Force (MSPF) for the TRUEX training and missions, but this deployment marks the first time a MEU will deploy with a contingent of Marine Special Operations Command troops, and it employed the special-operation warriors to perform the difficult nighttime urban operations.
Sturdevant said the opportunity to coordinate with MARSOC was essential to the success of the upcoming deployment.
"The work we've done to integrate with MARSOC was invaluable," he said, adding that working closely with MARSOC brought a few growing pains, but that the training went very well.
"This has been a great opportunity to interact with [the Marines of the MARSOC Battalion]," he said.
Sturdevant had nothing but praise for the Marines and Sailors under his command as training wrapped up.
"I'm very pleased with what I've seen and the accomplishments we've made," he said.
The 26th MEU has completed roughly two-thirds of its rigorous, six-month predeployment training cycle intended to form the disparate elements of the MEU into a cohesive, rapid-reaction force capable of performing missions inside their area of operation within hours of receiving orders.
The MEU will continue to train for their upcoming early 2007 deployment in the Global War on Terrorism.
For more information on the 26th MEU, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu