ABOARD USS BATAAN -- After nearly six-months of rigorous pre-deployment training stretching back to June, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has reached the final test before its scheduled early 2007 deployment.
The MEU kicked off its Certification Exercise, or CERTEX, Nov. 30 aboard the ships of the Bataan Strike Group.
Nearly all of the MEU's 2,200 Marines and Sailors will participate in the exercise as the unit's Command, Ground, Aviation and Logistics elements work together as a cohesive force to meet numerous objectives during the operation, which is scheduled to conclude Dec. 12.
During the exercise, the MEU will be evaluated by personnel from II Marine Expeditionary Force's training and future planning section on its ability to accomplish traditional MEU missions.
The MEU's elements can expect to be sent ashore to undertake amphibious raids, non-combatant evacuation operations, tactical recoveries of aircraft and personnel, and mass casualty situations, said Capt. Scott D. Welborn, the MEU's target information officer and the action officer for CERTEX.
"Basically, we will be presented with situations not unlike those we might encounter on our coming deployment," he explained.
While the MEU began transit from shore to ship via Landing Crafts Air-Cushioned and helicopters on Nov. 29, planning for the considerable logistical and operational undertakings involved in making the exercise a success has been in the works since October, Welborn added.
Throughout CERTEX the MEU will work closely with its Navy counterparts from the Bataan Strike Group as the unit continues to build on an already productive inter-service relationship, said Navy Cmdr. Jon R. Carriglitto, USS Bataan (LHD 5) operations officer.
"I feel like we know each other very well," he explained. "We are beginning to take integration to the highest level of compatibility."
The relationship between the "blue" and "green" sides is one built on mutual capabilities, with the Navy providing support in the form of launching platforms for Marine aircraft and landing craft for transport to shore, in addition to basic living provisions.
The most important resources the Marines bring to the group are additional layers of force protection, intelligence, and communications, all of which will serve to enhance the strike group's security during the coming deployment, said Carriglitto.
The Bataan Strike Group has been working through its own demanding training schedule since April.
The strike group completed its pre-deployment certification process with a successful Composite Training Unit Exercise in early November.
Although now qualified to deploy, the strike group must be careful not to lose sight of the significance of treating this final exercise like a real-world event, said Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael G. Marotta, Bataan's Operations Department lead chief petty officer.
"People need to understand that we are eventually going into harms way," he said. "We may need to protect the ship, support the Marines, or defend the nation."
For more information, news and videos on the 26th MEU, visit www.usmc.mil/26meu.