FORT A.P. HILL, Va. -- 26th Marine Expeditionary Marines wrapped up Realistic Urban Training, a three-week exercise at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., June 18.
The MEU must combine command, air, ground and support assets in order to perform a wide range of missions from combat to humanitarian assistance– all of which MEU Marines practiced and refined over the last few weeks.,
With half of their "crawl, walk, run" predeployment training period (PTP) complete, 26th MEU leadership is confident with where the Marines sit – already postured for deployment.
"The MEU has come together better than we could have imagined at this point," said Lt. Col. Benjamin Chapman, 26th MEU operations officer, who is responsible for the coordination and overall execution of all MEU training. "At this stage of PTP, normally the three elements are at the crawl stage. Yet here we've seen them operate at levels of units ready to deploy."
During RUT, and outside the Marines’ comfort zone in Camp Lejeune, N.C., the unit has worked to refine everything from individual skills and small unit tactics to company and MEU-level command and control.
The MEU traveled 290 miles to northern Virginia in order to take the Marines to environments unfamiliar to them. There they received high-intensity, close-quarters battle training and trained in the use of live and non-lethal fires, and the use of explosives for breaching.
Though an urban area may be a more hospitable place to live, it is the most challenging tactical environment in which the MEU could operate.
"Training in and around Virginia affords the opportunity for the Marines and sailors to train in unfamiliar places, which will pay dividends when deployed in uncertain foreign environments," Chapman said.
The MEU is comprised of a command element and three major subordinate elements - Combat Logistics Battalion 26, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced) - each of which bring much-needed assets. The MEU is a Marine Air Ground Task Force. This means that it is entirely self-sufficient and needs no external support to conduct the many missions assigned to it.
Because the MEU has all of its warfighting assets under a single commander, it can leverage an incredible amount of combat power against the enemy at the time of the MEU commander's choosing.
Combat Logistics Battalion 26
CLB-26 provided the critical logistical support for all elements of the MEU during the RUT exercise.
"We give the MEU the capability to sustain on shore in any environment for any given period of time," said Lt. Col. Tim Bryant, CLB-26 commanding officer.
The Logistics Combat Element not only brings food to the table, they have the transportation to get it there and engineers to build a house around it.
The CLB provides engineers who can lay the groundwork and foundation to build structures or fighting positions, electricians to provide power and water, and fuel for all MEU vehicles. The CLB also brings a higher level of maintenance and the ability to recover downed equipment.
When the MEU reaches a port, beach or sets up a landing zone, CLB-26 provides landing support and traffic control.
"We bring what it takes to keep a MEU going in an expeditionary environment," said Bryant.
The CLB proved this during a heavy lift exercise during which landing support specialists worked with VMM-266 to move large targets, representing tanks, from one range to another via helicopter. CLB Marines take on many different roles both within and outside of their typical job specialties – these collateral duties help bridge the gap and ensure the MEU is multifaceted. The CLB’s lionesses program gives the MEU the capability of handling female detainees.
"It was an incredible learning experience," said Sgt. Jennifer Filauro, who helped with a female mock-detainee after a training raid. She went on to explain it is very important to have women trained in handling other females, especially in countries where women are not allowed to speak to men. This ability helps the MEU overcome these kinds of cultural barriers.
In addition to their duties, the CLB's military police also take on additional roles by supporting the BLT during raids.
"The CLB provided the means for a reconnaissance element insertion in preparation for a training mission," said Chapman. "The Marines are at a point where they can provide the MEU commander a greater level of flexibility in the execution of any mission the MEU is assigned."
Battalion Landing Team 3/8
The Ground Combat Element not only brings the means to fight, but also the ability to conduct a wide array of operations. The BLT will deploy with more than 1,200 Marines and sailors – infantryman, artilleryman, tank operators, light armored reconnaissance Marines, combat engineers, mechanized vehicle operators, snipers, and others.
"The BLT's training was two-fold," said Maj. Michael Hoffman, BLT 3/8 operations officer. "First they trained using combined arms. Platoon and company levels focused on live-fire ranges and integration of company level movement with indirect fire through engineers and aviation-delivered ordnance. The second part is executing situational type training under the supervision of Special Operations Training Group. These exercises are company-level scenarios that include reconnaissance and surveillance missions, and company level raids with role players on the objective."
Hoffman explained that the Marines were able to conduct two months of training in two weeks.
"Training at Fort A.P. Hill allowed us to conduct aggressive live-fire ranges in a very compressed time period," he said. "The BLT provides a very flexible fighting force for the full spectrum of operations from humanitarian assistance to counter insurgency to kinetic combat operations."
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced)
Throughout the training exercise, VMM-266, 26th MEU's Air Combat Element, provided air support using MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, and CH-53E Super Stallion, UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Super Cobra Helicopters. The ACE also provided air support using AV-8B Harrier II jets and KC-130J Hercules airplanes, as well as Surrogate Unmanned Aerial Systems.
“Our role like any other time is to provide the air portion of a MAGTF,” said Lt. Col. Romin Dasmalchi, commanding officer of VMM-266. “The ACE works in direct support of the BLT, CLB and command element and brings offensive air support as well as command and control of these assets.”
"A.P. Hill is unique, not only for all the ranges for live-fire aviation employment," said Dasmalchi, "but it is centrally located in an urban environment."
During RUT, ACE pilots' skills were tested when landing in unfamiliar landing zones in several local civilian communities, including Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Farmville, Bremo Bluff, and Hopewell, Va.
"The overall objective is integrating with the (Major Subordinate Elements) and individual training in unfamiliar urban areas," Dasmalchi said. "Our aircrews have landed in places they've never seen or touched before … this is very representative of real-world activities."
The ACE provides aerial support for combined arms operations as well as showcased their heavy-lift capabilities by working with the CLB to move large targets which simulated tanks from range to range.
Just like the other MSEs, ACE leadership believes they are poised and ready for deployment.
"I believe the Marines are more than ready," said Dasmalchi. "They have met or exceeded all of the predeployment requirements - more importantly, we have an increased cohesive and motivated team."
"The support from throughout the MEU has been incredible," said Hoffman. "It's not so much the support as it is one team working together to accomplish the mission. Our integration of ACE, CLB and BLT from the individual level all the way up has been seamless. It is definitely the strongest combined arms (team) I have been a part of."
Throughout the unit, perceptions of unit readiness and confidence in the MEU to tackle any mission assigned are being voiced.
"RUT was a huge success," said Chapman, "in the fact that we met or exceeded all of our training objectives, preparing us for our next exercise integrating with our Navy counterparts at sea."
"The upcoming deployment looks to be very promising," said Hoffman. "Marines are always ready, which is what sets us apart. I’d be very comfortable deploying tomorrow with these Marines."