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Marines and sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit lead virtual convoys aboard USS San Antonio as part of a vehicle commander course during the MEU's trans-Atlantic crossing.

Photo by Cpl. Aaron J. Rock

Driving where there are no roads, 26th MEU trains convoy commanders at sea

7 Sep 2008 | Cpl Aaron J. Rock 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The engines are silent, the wheels are not turning.  The trucks are, in fact, chained to the deck in the bowels of a warship.  But that hasn’t stopped Marines and sailors from Combat Logistics Battalion-26, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, from training for convoy operations.

During the 26th MEU’s trans-Atlantic crossing aboard the ships of the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, roughly 30 Marines and sailors took part in a vehicle commander’s course, designed to further prepare troops who may be called upon as vehicle commanders in combat environments.

As the MEU began its deployment with no firm destination, the troops, fresh from an arduous, six-month predeployment training period (PTP), continued to train for a wide variety of potential operating environments.

Training exercises during the PTP led unit leaders to identify a need for more vehicle commanders in the CLB. And due to the massive variety of tasks the motor transportation detachment was-- and will be-- required to carry out during operations, those new vehicle commanders would have to come from other detachments inside the CLB, according to Sgt. Benjamin G. Haase, quality control chief for CLB-26’s transportation support detachment, and an instructor for the course.

The responsibilities and wide range of other tasks essential for a vehicle commander to know required a course for those Marines identified as being likely to fall into that role, said Gunnery Sgt. Howard L. Willis, CLB-26 military police detachment commander.

 It wasn’t easy to get the classes scheduled and the attendees to the class, as the MEU’s personnel are spread over three ships of the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group.  Just getting the 31 Marines and sailors to the San Antonio was a logistical challenge involving helicopter movements and juggling berthing spaces.

Once aboard ship, the Marines were treated to a seven-day, intensive course where they spent eight to ten hours a day in a classroom or conducting practical application, Haase said.

The Marines in the course benefitted from the fact that all the instructors are combat veterans with years of training under their belts, who were able to pass along their accumulated knowledge to the troops in the class, said Willis.

Haase echoed Willis.

“We are speaking from experience and training in the past,” said Haase.  “The threats, such as IEDs, have changed from even just a few years ago, along with the enemy’s tactics.”

The long list of subjects packed into the class included such things as conducting Immediate Action Drills, proper escalation of force, what to fire upon in accordance with the current Rules of Engagement and Law of Armed Conflict, and how to properly employ and direct their gunners.  In addition, the future vehicle commanders learned host of responsibilities a they must attend to before a vehicle even leaves its base, such as pre-combat checks, pre-combat inspections, patrol procedures, and knowledge of basic medical aid, said Willis.

All of that knowledge and more is essential because, “The enemy constantly changes its tactics, techniques and procedures.  Our VCs need to have the skills to be able to react or mitigate the threat they will encounter while traversing the battlespace,” Willis said.

The last day of training was spent in a virtual combat environment, called the Digital Video Training Environment (DVTE), that allowed the students to practice most of what they had learned in simulated convoys, in a format that would be familiar to many who play computer games, but with far more serious implications.

The importance of the course was not lost on the students.

“There was a lot of useful information; things that all Marines don’t necessarily know that goes into preparing for a convoy,” said Sergeant Aaron D. McCrae, platoon sergeant for CLB-26’s landing support detachment.

McCrae said the course brought Marines from different Military Occupational Specialties into the fold to find out about some of the intricacies of convoy operations.

“The (communications equipment and procedures) classes, medical classes, and things like call-for-fire were extremely valuable, and the whole class in general was good because it taught things that your average Marine may not know,” he continued.

At the conclusion of the course, the Marines began to prepare for their return to their respective ships, but the training was far from over, said Haase.

“The training does not stop with the end of this course,” he said. “It will continue when we get to a place where we can put this knowledge into play.”

McCrae said he will welcome the chance to use his new skills.

“I am looking forward to doing this in a real-world environment,” he said.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is currently embarked on the ships of the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group during the beginning of their deployment abroad in support of the Global War on Terror.

For more information, news, and video on the 26th MEU, visit
26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)