USS KEARSARGE, Off the coast of Camp Lejeune --
Marines with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit ended their Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) today. This was the second of three major exercises in 26th MEU's pre-deployment training period before its scheduled fall deployment.
After loading onto the ships of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group during the first week of July, the Marines and sailors also supported a bilateral exercise with United Kingdom Royal Marines and sailors, AURIGA 2010. Marines and their UK counterparts teamed up for a Supporting Arms Coordination Exercise early in the training evolution to practice and refine indirect fire and combined arms integration at ranges on Camp Lejeune.
Travelling south to the Florida coastline, Marines and sailors kicked off the scenario-driven COMPTUEX in earnest, conducting a live Maritime Interception Operation exercise at sea. MEU Marines and Kearsarge ARG sailors teamed up to identify, target a non compliant vessel suspected of smuggling arms and supplies to an insurgency, and conduct an aerial insert boarding to enforce its compliance.
Combat Logistics Battalion 26 took the lead on a Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief training mission based at Naval Support Activity Mayport, Fla., beginning July 16. While elements of Battalion Landing Team 3/8 provided security, CLB-26 Marines and sailors managed the distribution of more than 50,000 lbs. of mock relief supplies via aircraft from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (VMM-266) (Rein).
Scenario training stopped temporarily when a MEU AV-8B Harrier crashed in Ocala National Forest, Fla., around 8 p.m. July 18 while conducting close air support training. Captain Jarrod L. Klement, with VMM-266 (Rein) ejected from the plane and was airlifted by local authorities to Shands Cancer Hospital at the University of Florida, Gainesville, where he was treated for minor injuries and released. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
The Marines resumed COMPTUEX training July 19, as the ships of Kearsarge ARG moved north to continue the exercise off the shores of Camp Lejeune, where their UK counterparts had been conducting counterinsurgency fighting ashore. BLT 3/8 conducted an amphibious assault July 23, executing a relief in place with 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, who returned to UK ships offshore.
Another key element of COMPTUEX was reconnaissance, communication, and close air support provided by Joint Tactical Air Controllers on the ground, and aircraft assets such as Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and Airborne Warning And Control System. Throughout the exercise, 26th MEU tactical air controllers teamed with sailors, airmen, soldiers as well as Air Force JSTARS and NATO AWACS crews who provided intelligence that affected the exercise.
"This is the first time that Strike Force Training Atlantic invited JSTARS to participate in an ARG/MEU COMPTUEX as a fully integrated resource," said David J. Gellene, N57 plans director for Commander, Strike Force Training, Atlantic. JSTARS participated in another MEU's COMPTUEX in Feb. 2009, but only as a proof of concept event, Gellene said. The Kearsarge ARG/26th MEU's exercise marks the first time JSTARS was integrated into COMPTUEX scenario-driven exercises.
Familiarization with these systems' functions and capabilities was key for the Marines' proper utilization should they benefit from any of their availability during the MEU's upcoming deployment.
COMPTUEX was an extremely successful evolution for 26th MEU, according to Executive Officer Lt. Col. Mike Starling. Communications, Navy and Marine staff planning, integration with higher level assets and standardization of operating procedures between the Marines and Navy staffs exceeded expectations.
"The Kearsarge ARG and 26th MEU have a firm grasp on our communications and mission procedures, which was a major objective for this exercise," Starling said. "COMPTUEX was extremely productive and has set us up well for the certification exercise ahead."
26th MEU's certification exercise begins mid-August. The MEU is scheduled to deploy in the fall.