USS WASP, At Sea --
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit first stood up April 24, 1967, taking part in exercises in the Caribbean Sea. April 24, 2012, it celebrated its 45th birthday, as a proud unit with a startling variety of accomplishments all over the world, with a ceremony held aboard USS Wasp.
During the ceremony, Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, 26th MEU commanding officer, outlined his fighting force. The 26th MEU of today, when composited, is comprised of a reinforced infantry battalion about 1,200 Marines strong, a reinforced aviation squadron about 500 Marines strong with fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft, and a combat logistics battalion about 600 Marines strong, all aboard Navy vessels, ready to initiate operations anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.
“When you take those 2,300 Marines and their equipment and embark it on amphibious ships of the United States Navy; that is an incredibly capable force,” St. Clair said. “It is there to respond for our nation when our nation is least ready. It’s a tremendous capability that no department under the Department of Defense can provide but the Navy and Marine Corps Team.”
The unit didn’t start out this well-equipped; it didn’t have many of the assets it possesses today, including jets or tanks, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christopher J. Joy, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear defense officer and unit historian for the 26th MEU. The MEU is constantly adapting to and employing new technology.
As the decades passed, the 26th MEU became a pioneering force in expanding the capabilities of the Marine Corps’ MEUs, a role it still fits in even today. In 1985, it was the first MEU to receive the Special Operations Capable designation and the first to carry the AV-8B Harrier. Ten years later, it was the first to carry the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. In early 2011, AV-8B Harriers from the 26th MEU were the first coalition forces to put bombs on target in hostile Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn. In the same conflict, it became the first MEU to use the new MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to conduct a tactical recovery of aircraft personnel when an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle crashed in Libya.
Joy said, it’s important to remember and take pride in past accomplishments.
“It’s not just the story of the 26th MEU, it’s the story of the Marines of the 26th MEU,” said Joy. “It’s our legacy and our future.”
Marines of the MEU and sailors of the Wasp took pride in the birthday celebration together as a Navy-Marine Corps team, celebrating with a ceremony for the unit, which included a traditional cake-cutting.
“This was the first MEU to embark upon USS Wasp for its maiden voyage back in 1991, so you couldn’t find a more fitting background or location to have this ceremony here today,” St. Clair said. “Marines belong on the (amphibious assault ships) of the United States Navy and we belong side-by-side with our brethren in blue. We provide the capability that no other force does.”