CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
From April 9, 2012, when they departed aboard the USS Wasp from Norfolk Naval Station, Va., to May 2, 2012, when they returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit supported fleet week celebrations in New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., representing the inherent strength of today’s Navy-Marine Corps team to the local people.
“The number one goal was to let the American public have a chance to see the 26th MEU,” said Capt. Glenn Jensen, force protection officer with 26th MEU, and lead planner for both events.
More than 35,000 visitors toured the Wasp. Marines from Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment displayed their equipment and answered questions. MEU and company personnel also completed community projects in each port. The Marines and sailors left a lasting impact in both cities.
The 26th MEU set out aboard the Wasp, heading south to marginally warmer and significantly more humid climes, arriving in New Orleans April 17. Marines wasted no time in taking to the town and exploring all the sights and sounds it had to offer. The next day, the work began.
Marines scraped fences, received awards, attended luncheons in their honor, entered cooking contests, and enjoyed the soul and hospitality that earns New Orleans part of its distinctive aura.
“It was a chance for the Marines to get out and see an American public that truly appreciates the sacrifices these Marines made,” said Jensen.
For many, this was their first time in the city. Marines and sailors explored the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, listened to jazz, and ate the local cuisine. The city received the 26th MEU with zest, and the Marines and sailors showed their appreciation until their departure April 23, as the USS Wasp turned and steamed down the vast Mississippi River.
While sailing to Florida, Marines and sailors celebrated the 45th birthday of the 26th MEU, April 24. “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,” said Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, the unit’s commanding officer, during the celebration.
After sailing east, the Marines took to the flight deck, manning the rails one cool, breezy morning as the Wasp pulled into Port Everglades, April 25. The Marines of 26th MEU were welcomed at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and took part in the opening ceremony of Fleet Week Port Everglades alongside the sailors of all six participating ships.
The Marines enjoyed the beaches of Florida, while also fanning out across the area to interact with a number of schools, hospitals, and nursing homes, spreading the goodwill of the unit around the area.
The Marines departed Florida April 30, heading north to allow the Marines to disembark by Landing Craft Air Cushion and Landing Craft Utility on Onslow Beach and Radio Island along the North Carolina shoreline. After a weekend of rest, the Marines of the MEU begin preparations for their upcoming deployment. “Now that we’re back, we get right back into it,” said Jensen. “Individual predeployment training and offsite planning starts immediately.”