OFF THE COAST OF JACKSONVILLE, N.C. --
Nearly six-months after the elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit formed aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C., Marines of the 26th MEU now come together again aboard the ships of the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group for what will be their last exercise before the unit's impending deployment, scheduled for early fall 2008.
The Composite Training Unit Exercise, or COMPTUEX, will be the final at-sea training period for both the MEU and the ships of the Iwo Jima ESG, and will act as the certification exercise as the MEU readies for deployment.
Ordinarily, the COMPTUEX would be followed by one more at-sea period, the Certification Exercise, which would act as the final test before deployment.
“Normally a MEU does three at-sea work-ups,” said Col. Mark J. Desens, 26th MEU commanding officer. "But our with our accelerated deployment schedule, we needed to combine the last two evolutions and conduct our evaluation within our composite exercise," he said. Desens went on to say he's confident in the capabilities of his MEU, considering the Marines' performance at exercises and the real-world operations in Indiana in June.
"I believe we will do just fine," said Desens. "At the end of this we will certify with the Commanding General II Marine Expeditionary Force that we are ready to deploy."
The 26th MEU has accelerated its training schedule, but has not missed out on any training. In fact, during the predeployment training period, the MEU has done more real-world operations than some MEUs do during their deployments.
When the 26th MEU went to Indianapolis, Ind., for its Realistic Urban Training exercise, it simultaneously ran training exercises while assisting flood-relief efforts in the state.
This year, the MEU’s unique predeployment training period prepared it for almost any situation, according to Desens. The Marines have had to do more in less time than a MEU normally would, which Desens said is good training. COMPTUEX is one example.
With nearly all of the MEU's 2,200 Marines and Sailors aboard the ships of the ESG, the exercise will test the unit's Command, Ground, Aviation and Logistics elements as they work together as a cohesive force to meet numerous objectives during the operation, scheduled to conclude July 30.
During the exercise, personnel from II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operations Training Goup will evaluate the MEU's ability to accomplish missions. MEU Marines are not told in advance which of a wide assortment of expeditionary missions they'll be tasked with accomplishing. Planning, coordination and execution must all be done in real-time from scratch, just like the real world.
Amphibious raids, non-combatant evacuation operations, tactical recoveries of aircraft and personnel, mass casualty situations, embassy reinforcements, and a host of other missions can be thrown at the MEU in a short period of time, often simultaneously.
Following the completion of the COMPTUEX, the Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU will return home for some much-deserved leave before embarking on their scheduled deployment.