Photo Information

Lance Cpl. Andrew Lopez, a rifleman with Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, applies camouflage paint to prepare for a helicopter-borne raid during Composite Training Unit Exercise aboard USS Iwo Jima July 24, 2008. The exercise is part of the certification process the 26th MEU must complete for deployment in late fall. (Official USMC photo by Cpl. Patrick M. Johnson-Campbell)

Photo by Cpl. Patrick M. Johnson-Campbell

On the brink

29 Jul 2008 | Cpl. Aaron Rock

Six months after the Major Subordinate Elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit formed together into the 2,200-strong Marine Air-Ground Task Force, the unit has now completed the last of its major training exercises, the Composite Training Unit Exercise, aboard the ships of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group.

In a departure from an ordinary predeployment workup period, COMPTUEX served as the certification exercise for the 26th MEU. Normally that role would have been fulfilled by another at-sea period, the Certification Exercise or CERTEX. 

The compressed schedule put pressure on leaders and equipment of the MEU, but was nothing the MEU couldn't handle, said Col. Mark J. Desens, commanding officer of the 26th MEU.

"Our approach to the certification piece of COMPTUEX was simple. Our primary focus is on improving ourselves at every opportunity. If you do that right, an evaluation takes care of itself. We continuously seek opportunities to train aggressively, with leaders controlling the pace and complexity of how we train so that we don't get people hurt or equipment needlessly damaged along the way," said Desens. 

Despite the fact that two exercises were merged into one, Desens stressed that it was business as usual for the warriors in the MEU, and the unit coped quite handily with the added stresses.

"In what we want to achieve, COMPTUEX was no busier than the norm. It was a chance to exercise all of the missions we have trained for from the sea and to further strengthen our relationship with our Navy counterparts," he said. 

In addition to the logistical movements and skills necessary to operate as a fully functional expeditionary unit, the MEU practiced a wide spectrum of combat and humanitarian operations with which it may be tasked during its deployment, scheduled for late August, 2008.

Among the missions completed were multiple amphibious and helicopter-borne raids, a simulated embassy reinforcement and Noncombatant Evacuation Operation, a Humanitarian Assistance Operation, several Mass Casualty scenarios, and a host of other skills unique to a MEU which can only be practiced while embarked aboard the Marines' future home for six months, the Iwo Jima ESG, according to Desens. 

Almost all Marines and Sailors belonging to the 26th MEU, including the Command Element; the Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Rein); the Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2/6; and the Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion-26, were loaded aboard the USS Iwo Jima, USS San Antonio and USS Carter Hall, along with all their equipment, in order to properly simulate a deployed environment.

"You can't simulate the environment of living and operating from the sea, you have to actually do it. We have safely, yet aggressively, exercised each of our units in ship-to-shore movements, employed our assets in a tactical environment, and returned to shipping so that we are ready for follow-on missions. We have exercised live-fire operations, to include naval gunfire and aviation and the shifting of control of those fires from the ship to the (Battalion Landing Team Fire Support Coordination Center) ashore," Desens said.