ABOARD USS BATAAN -- When a Marine unit deploys, it usually has a clear idea of where it is going and what it will be doing when it gets there.
This is not traditionally true for Marine Expeditionary Units, and the 26th MEU is no exception as it gets underway aboard the ships of the Bataan Strike Group for its first deployment since 2005.
About the only thing that is guaranteed for 'A Certain Force in an Uncertain World', as the MEU is known, is that it must be ready for anything, anytime, anywhere, said Lt. Col. Rick Loucks, the MEU's operations officer and veteran of three previous MEU deployments.
"The opportunities for our employment are greater and more varied than a unit who knows where they are going to go," he explained.
Although the MEU's contingency-force nature makes its missions and destinations unpredictable, the unit does have some basic notions of where it will be heading as it follows the pattern of traditional Mediterranean deployments.
The unit plans to first enter the Mediterranean Sea, where it will operate as the landing force for the Sixth Fleet under U.S. European Command.
While in EUCOM's area of operations, the MEU's 2,200 Marines and Sailors will likely have an opportunity to go ashore and expand their cultural horizons in the ports the strike group ships visit.
These port visits are an important aspect of the traditional MEU mission, said Loucks.
"In many situations, it's the most contact Europeans have with us," added the Cedar Point, N.C., native. "They discover that we aren't that different from them, and it helps bridge culture gaps."
Besides spending time ashore on liberty, the MEU could participate in bi-lateral training with foreign militaries while in EUCOM's AOR.
The MEU also plans on entering U.S. Central Command's AOR, where it will serve under the Fifth Fleet.
The nature of its operations could very well change in that theater due to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Loucks.
"The [state] of operations in CENTCOM is more volatile than EUCOM," he explained. "However, we have to remain prepared to execute any mission in either AOR, wherever we are directed."
Facing an unknown destination and mission doesn't seem to bother many of the MEU's troops.
"The uncertainty is different," said Sgt. Zachary Strelke, a squad leader with Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/2, the MEU's ground combat element. "But that's part of our job."
"The only thing we can really do is try our best to be ready for anything," added the Seattle native.
Due to the multitude of possibilities for employment the MEU faces on this deployment, keeping an open mind on future operations is exactly what the unit's leadership wants its troops to do.
"I expect everyone to stay positive and be ready to execute whatever mission comes our way," said Col. Gregg A. Sturdevant, the MEU's commanding officer. "Anything could happen and we need to be prepared."
The rigorous, six-month pre-deployment training program that the MEU completed in December 2006 should have the unit ready for any situation that comes its way, he added.
As for the immediate future, the MEU's forces will continue to conduct personal and small unit training as the unit crosses the Atlantic Ocean aboard the USS Bataan (LHD-5), USS Oak Hill (LSD-51) and USS Shreveport (LPD-12).
The 26th MEU is composed of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 2/2; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion-26.
For more information on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.