MIDDLE EAST -- For anyone thinking of trying to catch the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit off guard: think again. The MEU has some special sentries on post, and while these watchers never learned drill, earned a martial arts belt or qualified with a rifle, they never sleep, eat, tire or blink either.
In fact, these vigilant guardians are not Marines at all. They are unmanned sensors.
With an array of remote surveillance capabilities, the 26th MEU's Ground Sensor Platoon Detachment is a team of Marines that helps minimize the chances of anything or anyone catching the unit off guard.
The GSP Det.'s primary function within the MEU is to support force protection by providing early warning of vehicles and personnel approaching the unit's positions, said Sgt. Shane Scoggins, the MEU's GSP Det. team leader.
To accomplish their surveillance mission, the detachment has distinct types of sensors that can be emplaced to keep an unceasing watch over an area.
Some sensors detect vibrations in the ground, some detect quantities of metal, while others independently capture still images or detect heat signatures from passing objects, and determine a subject's direction of movement.
Although each sensor has a different function in the detection and surveillance process, properly deploying them together is important, said Scoggins.
"If you just put one out there, you are never really going to be able to tell what you are looking at."
The data the sensors capture is relayed back to a GSP operator for interpretation and analysis.
This human component is another crucial part of the surveillance process, said Sgt. Joshua E. Morris, a ground sensor operator for the MEU.
"A good sensor operator doesn't need an image to tell him what's going on out there," he said. "He should be able to use just the data coming from the other (sensors) to know something's out there."
Having an unceasing watch over strategic areas is a valuable asset to the MEU's force protection teams, said 1st Lt. Jason C. Yurisic, the MEU's Low Altitude Air Defense Platoon and Headquarters Security Element commander.
"Having the sensors out there gives me the flexibility to get my guys in good positions," he said. "They give me the ability to get eyes on what's going on out there without sending my guys out there."
Ultimately, it is the unmanned, mechanical nature of the surveillance sensors that make them effective as force protection multipliers, said Sgt. Anthony Farish, a ground sensor operator for the MEU.
"While there's no replacement for human eyes when it comes to security, the sensors do have advantages," he explained. "Sensors don't get tired, or hungry, or care if they get wet."
"They are a great supplement (to human security), but in no way a replacement," he finished.
The 26th MEU is currently ashore in the Middle East for sustainment and bilateral training with regional forces.
The MEU is in the fourth month of routine, scheduled deployment that began Jan. 6 and has included successful training operations in Djibouti and Kenya, as well as sustained maritime security operations while aboard the ships of the Bataan Strike Group.
For more on the MEU, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.