Photo Information

Lance Cpl. Jaime J. Sweeney, radio operator for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Ground Sensor Platoon, checks the field of view from a camera, Oct. 24, 2008, in the Middle East. The 26th MEU was conducting bilateral training exercises with the host nation.

Photo by Cpl. Aaron J. Rock

Shake, Rattle and Roll

27 Oct 2008 | Cpl. Aaron J. Rock 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

You will probably never see one of the most important assets fielded by the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, but it provides the MEU with a vital surveillance capability.

After Marines from the MEU’s Ground Sensor Platoon emplace their sophisticated data collection devices, the MEU commander can rest assured he has a sentry who will not sleep, eat, or take chow breaks, and can determine what is moving in the daytime, in the dark, or in foul weather through a variety of sensory inputs.

The GSP Marines are essentially a highly-trained team of infantrymen with a radio operator who use a slew of high-tech gadgets to augment the surveillance capabilities of the MEU.

“The GSP (detachment) provides a measurement and signature intelligence, or MASINT, capability to the MEU.  MASINT is technically-derived intelligence that detects, locates, tracks, identifies and describes the unique characteristics of targets,” said Maj. Carl C. Priechenfried, MEU intelligence officer.

Those capabilities, coupled with the fact that the devices run on batteries that rarely need to be changed, mean a commander can pull Marines from some areas covered by the sensors and put them elsewhere as needed, while still maintaining security and intelligence gathering, according to Cpl. Christopher W. Fifield, GSP team leader..

Fifield says his detachment, reserve Marines based in Mobile, Ala., has trained and worked extensively with domestic agencies such as the Border Patrol and have helped interdict hundreds of illegal border crossers and drug smugglers, resulting in the confiscation of hundreds of pounds of drugs.

The real-world experience of the detachment greatly enhances the capabilities of the unit, according to Priechenfried.

“[Their] experience with the Border Patrol allows them to employ their assets against a thinking adversary, which is sometimes difficult to achieve in a simulated training environment,” he said.

One of the detachment’s efforts while deployed has been to educate MEU Marines and Sailors about what it is exactly that they do.  While the unit command certainly knows how to use and employ them, the average Marine often has no clue.

  “We are training other Marines about what exactly we do and what capabilities we bring to bear,” said Fifield, explaining his feelings that GSP may have been an overlooked or “forgotten” asset until recently.

Priechenfried said GSP was too important to ever be forgotten.

“The unit hasn’t been forgotten by any means – they are one of the more frequently-tasked assets within the (Marine Air Ground Task Force) during deployments,” he said.

He explained that due to the breakneck pace at which the MEU trains during its predeployment training period, the GSP Marines didn’t always get a chance to emplace their long-term sensors.

“Often Marines will have little exposure to them and the capabilities they bring.  So, it is important for Marines throughout the MEU to understand what they do so that the detachment’s efforts will be trusted and thus they can accomplish their mission,” he said.

However, the man tasked with employing them certainly doesn’t need to be refreshed on their capabilities.

26th MEU commanding officer Col. Mark J. Desens knows full-well what his GSP Marines bring to the fight … and he likes it.

“I certainly feel more comfortable knowing I have that kind of capability with us,” he said.

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)