MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit officially activated today, assuming operational control of its ground combat, aviation combat and service support elements during an afternoon formation at Goettge Memorial Field House here.
The addition of Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 162 (Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 26 brings the MEU's total strength to approximately 2,200.
The II Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general, Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, was the first to address the newly formed Marine Air Ground Task Force. Though he informed the troops it is not certain where the unit will end up in the future, he was certain of one thing. "I'm looking at 2500 Marines and Sailors in here who are going to see combat in the next eight to nine months," he said.
The general also stressed to the Marines and Sailors filling the field house bleachers that there is nothing more important they could be doing than fighting the Global War on Terrorism.
"I want to be able to take my grandchildren to a restaurant in downtown Washington D.C. or San Diego or in Jacksonville North Carolina. I want to be able to walk in there and not have some guy come in with a suicide belt and blow us up," the general said.
Following the commanding general's opening remarks, the MEU commander, Col. Thomas F. Qualls, was next to welcome the Marines and Sailors to the 26th MEU.
Qualls first explained his philosophy that teamwork throughout each element of the MEU will be the key to success for the unit. One of the primary reasons behind the day's formation was starting the pre-deployment cycle as a team, he said.
After laying out his simple yet essential expectations for each of the MEU elements, Qualls went on to stress the importance of safety, family readiness and force preservation. "Every one of us is important and we can't afford to lose anyone. We've got to have everyone in the fight," he said.
Qualls concluded by reminding everyone that they are Marines and Sailors 24 hours a day and that the immediate priority for the MEU is to focus on the pre-deployment training cycle.
"A lot will be asked of you over the next year. Take care of each other," he said.
The MEU's activation is in accordance with the scheduled MEU rotation and puts the unit on track to complete a comprehensive training plan prior to deployment with the Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group in Spring 2005.
Given the nature of operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism, enhanced emphasis will be placed on Stability and Support Operations (SASO) throughout the MEU's pre-deployment training. Elements of SASO include convoy operations, vehicle checkpoints, urban patrolling and countering threats such as improvised explosive devices.
The 26th MEU recently completed its first amphibious exercise, which presented the opportunity for elements of the MEU to train together prior to activation. In addition to beginning the cohesion of the MEU and relationship building with its Navy counterparts in the broader Expeditionary Strike Group, the exercise was the foundation for Quall's "crawl, walk, run" approach to preparing the Marines and Sailors for deployment.
Exercises the MEU has scheduled include: Amphibious Squadron - MEU Integration Exercise (PMINT); Training in Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX), to take place in New Orleans; and Special Operations Capable Certification Exercise (CERTEX).
As the MEU drives forward through pre-deployment training, each exercise will be used as a building block for subsequent exercises, enhancing the capabilities that make the MEU a highly adaptive, rapid reaction force.
More information regarding the 26th MEU is available at www.26meu.usmc.mil.