MIDDLE EAST -- Provisions, shelter and basic utilities are all necessary for a military unit to maintain any measure of sustained war fighting potential away from home.
For the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, whose role as a contingency force often lands it in foreign lands far from familiar infrastructure, providing these essentials to its troops requires the quartering expertise of the unit's Headquarters Commandant section.
As a core element, the four-man section oversees virtually every aspect of day-to-day camp life, from the moment the first tent is pitched to the instant when the last humvee pulls away, said Sgt. Brandon A. VanSickle, 26th MEU Headquarters Commandant police sergeant.
The section, headed by Headquarters Commandant, Master Sgt. Baran E. Fontanella, is charged with designing the layout of sleeping, eating and restroom facilities of MEU encampments and managing the interior guard force that keeps watch over the unit’s operational spaces.
Besides directing where billeting and working structures will be located, the section also plays a heavy role in erecting the MEU facilities.
"We are the initial impact at a campsite, and everything else falls into place around us," explained VanSickle.
He added that his section totes ashore 11 tent structures, more than 50 bales of camouflage netting and the capability to run miles of concertina wire to build a base for the MEU's operations.
Although many of the MEU's functions operate under a roof provided by the Headquarters Commandant section, the unit typically employs local contractors to assist in providing logistical support.
These foreign national services, arranged by the MEU's logistics elements, are often managed on a day-to-day and face-to-face basis in camp by Headquarters Commandant personnel, said VanSickle.
While the MEU will spend time ashore for exercises and operations, its home is often at sea, where the section continues its supportive role.
While aboard ship, the section provides a link between the Navy and Marine elements aboard, said Maj. Kevin S. Minton, 26th MEU staff judge advocate and the unit's executive officer of troops.
The Headquarters Commandant section is charged with identifying maintenance issues in troops' berthing spaces and locating Navy personnel to correct the problems; ensuring living quarters are stocked with basic supplies; and managing the MEU troops temporarily assigned to work for the ship on mess, trash and laundry details.
Accomplishing the diverse tasks at sea and ashore with just a four-Marine section requires resourcefulness and diligence, said VanSickle.
"This job takes a lot of patience and work initiative," he explained. "As long as we have those qualities, we'll be alright."
These efforts are integral to the MEU's success anywhere, said Minton.
"I think these Marines have shown a great amount of flexibility on this deployment, running both shipboard living spaces and camps ashore. We need a strong Headquarters Commandant (section) to handle those essential day-to-day tasks."
The 26th MEU is currently ashore conducting bilateral training with regional forces. The unit is in the fifth month of a routine, scheduled deployment that began Jan. 6 as the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group.
For more on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.