Distinguished guests visit 26th MEU in Djibouti

18 Feb 2007 | Cpl. Jeremy Ross

As the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit spent time ashore in Djibouti to conduct Exercise Image Nautilus Feb. 4-17, the unit hosted numerous guests including a member of the U.S. State Department and a top Marine leader at its base camp near Camp Lemonier.

The MEU's forces had been ashore for less than a day when they received a visit Feb. 5 from the U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti, W. Stuart Symington.

Symington spent about one hour at the MEU's base camp, greeting and talking with the unit's Marines and Sailors.

The ambassador also gathered all the troops at the site to speak to them as a group about their up-coming activities in Djibouti during the exercise, which included an exterior renovation at a local primary school Feb. 6-7, and bilateral, live-fire training with the Djiboutian military Feb. 10-14, at Myriam Range.

During his talk with the troops, the ambassador thanked them for their service and stressed the importance of their goodwill missions in the East African nation.

As Exercise Image Nautilus unfolded, another VIP stopped by to see the MEU in action.

More than 100 of the MEU's troops were treated to a surprise visit, Feb. 13, by the 15th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada.

Estrada's visit was part of his farewell tour as he prepares to relinquish his post in March to Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, and was as a pleasant surprise for the MEU, said 1st Sgt. Edwin Maldonado, Jr., First Sergeant, K Battery, Battalion Landing Team 2/2, 26th MEU.

Estrada was at Camp Lemonier for a scheduled tour stop when Maldonado and other staff non-commissioned officers from the MEU approached him about the possibility of making the short trip to speak to the Marines and Sailors at the MEU's base camp, said Maldonado.

"Before we told him, [Estrada] had no idea our Marines were here," he explained.  "He went out of his way to make it his business to go and see our [troops], even though he had other people waiting to see him."

Estrada spent nearly forty minutes at the MEU's camp, answering questions from the Marines and discussing changing Corps policy on issues including tattoo regulations, barracks improvements at Marine bases and a scheduled Marine Corps total force increase.

The unexpected visit was all the more impressive due to the small audience and relatively intimate setting, said Cpl. Gregory C. Aitch II, a radio operator from Combat Logistics Battalion-26, 26th MEU.

"I'd seen him before at [Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.], but there were thousands of other Marines there then," added the Longview, Texas, native.  "To see the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps like this before he retired was priceless."

In addition to hosting Symington and Estrada, the MEU also welcomed all military and civilian personnel from Camp Lemonier to view a static display of the unit's ground combat vehicles at the base camp Feb. 17.

Nearly forty people, including several members of the German military, turned out to see staged M-1 A1 Main Battle Tanks, HUMVEE gun trucks and Light Armored Vehicle-25s from BLT 2/2, during the event.

Troops who operate the vehicles on a day-to-day basis were on-hand to answer any questions the visitors had.

Giving personnel from the Camp Lemonier-based Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa an idea of the MEU's capabilities was a chief factor in the unit's decision to host the display, said Maj. Chris C. Lynch, executive officer for CLB-26.

"If [CJTF-HOA] is educated about what a MEU can do, they can most effectively use our kind of unit when we are in their [area of operations]," he explained.

The visitors the MEU received in Djibouti were not the first the unit had hosted since departing North Carolina on its current routine deployment Jan. 6

Craig R. Stapleton, the U.S. Ambassador to France, and members of the French military visited the unit's Marines and Sailors, Jan. 19, while USS Oak Hill was ported in Toulon, France.

The 26th MEU is deployed as the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group.  In addition to USS Bataan (LHD-5), the strike group is comprised of the USS Oak Hill (LSD-51), USS Shreveport (LPD-12), USS Nitze (DDG-94), USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), USS Underwood (FFG-36) and USS Scranton (SSN-756).

The Bataan ESG is currently supporting maritime security operations (MSO) in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command area of operations. MSO help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

For more on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.