CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Time became something of a commodity for Marines and sailors with 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit as they prepared to deploy a month early aboard the ships of Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group.
The ships left the docks at Naval Station Norfolk this week responding to an order by the Secretary of Defense to depart before the end of the month. They are bringing heavy- and medium-lift aircraft and other assets to support flood relief efforts in Pakistan. This Navy and Marine Corps team is expected to arrive in the vicinity of Pakistan in late September.
“This is an opportunity for 26th MEU Marines and sailors to help a key partner nation,” said Col. Mark J. Desens, commanding officer of 26th MEU. “We have a versatile and flexible force that we will use to alleviate suffering of the Pakistani citizens affected by this disaster.”
After assisting in Pakistan, the MEU will continue its regularly scheduled deployment, which will last more than two months longer than a traditional seven-month MEU deployment.
In five months of challenging pre-deployment training, the Marines and sailors of 26th MEU attacked a long list of training requirements designed to prepare them for missions they could face during their deployment.
26th MEU Marines began honing their capabilities during their first unit-wide field exercise aboard Fort Pickett, Va., March 24 to April 6.
Approximately 1,500 Marines and sailors participated in the 14-day offsite training exercise. MEU Marines fired nearly every weapon in the inventory and conducted individual and small unit training to certify across a wide range of skills, which included Humvee Egress Assistance Training (HEAT), foot and vehicle maneuvers, urban operations, breaching and demolitions. The MEU also received training on improvised explosive devices, qualified in the gas chamber, participated in the Combat Marksmanship Program, and more than a dozen other training events.
The training at Fort Pickett laid the foundation for more complex training evolutions, but the Marines had no rest between exercises. The majority of MEU Marines continued their training at Camp Lejeune, N.C., which included raids, Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel, and other simulations. Meanwhile, a select group of small unit leaders attended Assault Climbers Course in Kingwood, W.Va. There they gained the ability to lead movements of up to company-sized units through vertical or near-vertical mountainous environments.
In June at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., the MEU integrated the elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force - command, ground, air, and logistics elements - to perform numerous missions from combat to humanitarian assistance.
During the 18-day training evolution, the three elements of the MEU conducted several realistic training exercises in an urban environment. Some exercises included vehicle control point procedures, tactical site exploitation, engagements with key “indigenous” leadership, language training, interaction with host-nation forces, improvised explosive device recognition, crowd and riot control, detentions, and platoon and company-sized urban assaults. Units conducted several different training events but focused heavily on combined arms live fire which integrated artillery, mortars, direct ground fires and close air support to ground maneuvers. The training focused on operating in an urban environment and included interaction with role-playing villagers who provided an important sense of realism to the training.
As soldiers of the sea, a task-organized team of MEU Marines also honed skills to conduct operations underway by conducting Maritime Interception Operations training at a federal training facility in Barnwell, S.C., June 22-24.
This training provided integrated and sustainment training in the areas of breaching, fast-roping, tight-quarters maneuvering, and ship control. MEU Marines worked in cooperation with the Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat 22 based in Norfolk, Va., as well as civilian law enforcement and military training instructors. The training utilized buildings renovated to simulate naval vessels.
“This building offered us a ton of flexibility,” said Chad Harbough, president of Government Training Institute, the facility where the training took place. “Training inside the building is analogous to training in the belly of the ship.”
Marine scout snipers also trained in aerial marksmanship by shooting targets on a nearby range from UH-1N Huey and Navy MH-60S Seahawk Helicopters.
Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON)/ Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration Training exercise (PMINT) was the MEU’s first ship exercise. Marines and sailors with 26th MEU traveled more than 200 miles to Norfolk, Va., to participate in the three-week event with sailors of PHIBRON-4 aboard USS Kearsarge, USS New York, and USS Carter Hall, the week of April 22.
During the training, Marines were tested in their ability to conduct sensitive site exploitation, deck landing qualifications, assault missions, medical evacuations and other maritime requirements.
After the RUT exercise in Virginia and the Maritime Interceptions Exercise in South Carolina, the MEU returned to sea to conduct Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX).
The goal of COMPTUEX was to integrate, train and finalize communication and mission procedures with their Navy counterparts, incorporating the extensive training they conducted on land into an at-sea environment. MEU Marines conducted missions within a complex training scenario from the Navy’s amphibious ships comprising the Kearsarge ARG.
During COMPTUEX, Marines and sailors also strengthened U.S. alliances by participating in Operation Auriga, a simultaneous, bilateral carrier-integration and amphibious capabilities training exercise with British naval and Marine forces. Auriga was designed to increase the proficiency and interoperability of both U.S. and United Kingdom forces during coalition amphibious operations.
Battalion Landing Team 3/8 concluded COMPTUEX with an advance force operation and amphibious assault during July 22-26. The four-day assault was the last major ship-to-shore exercise for the MEU. With air support from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced) transporting them to the beach, the Marines of BLT 3/8 came ashore to secure the objective area. Combat Logistics Battalion 26 provided sustainment to the force throughout the training. The multi-faceted operation afforded the MEU an opportunity to perform multiple mission-essential tasks, including ship-to-shore operations, route reconnaissance, humanitarian aid, and patrolling.
Onload and deployment...
MEU Marines had just completed the onload for their certification exercise Aug. 10 when they received the notification that they might support the Pakistan flood relief mission. When confirmation arrived a few days later, the Marines had just two weeks to finalize preparation for deployment. Much of the gear had to be offloaded and re-packed at Camp Lejeune for deployment and the assigned mission. The MEU completed training requirements and finalize arrangements for the families and personal effects of nearly 2,400 Marines and sailors.
Despite the truncated schedule, the Marines are prepared to go, said Desens.
"We've had a very successful pre-deployment training period," Desens said. "Leaving our families early isn't easy, but we are ready to deploy and put into practice the skills we've worked so hard to perfect. Our mission in Pakistan is a noble one, and it's an honorable way to begin this deployment."