FORT PICKETT, Va. -- This part of Virginia, south of Richmond and no small distance from any city, is still hot, even in this September morning. Dust and gravel and old roads connect old buildings. The empty areas of this base give the impression of a ghost town, save one area, as tents expand like mushrooms and razor wire springs from the ground, twirling across the grass still wilting from summer’s blast-furnace heat. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has arrived at Virginia Army National Guard Training Center.
“The deployment of the 26th MEU to Fort Pickett is the first major training event of our six-month pre-deployment training program, allowing us to focus on individual and small-unit level skills in shooting, moving and communicating,” said Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, 26th MEU commanding officer and Baltimore native.
This is the first training evolution since the Marine Air-Ground Task Force composited Sept. 7, making them 2,200 Marines and sailors strong. Battalion Landing Team 3/2, the ground combat element; Combat Logistics Battalion 26, the combat logistics element; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 Reinforced, the air combat element; and the command element will all get to know each other during the training.
“This is the first time the ground combat element and logistics combat element have worked together since we composited. We’re demonstrating the ability of the MEU to work together – to exercise our logistics,” said Master Sgt. John Collins, 26th MEU headquarters commandant from Monterey, Calif.
“The MEU off-site is an opportunity for the MEU to move and set up their communications, command and control, and conduct missions and training in a different location,” said Lt. Col. Brynn Schreiner, 26th MEU executive officer. “This gives us a chance to move with our reinforcements, give them the same benefits, and exercise that command and control.”
The unit phased its arrival at Fort Pickett to maximize efficiency and minimize wasted time, sending convoys with gear to get in place before an advance party arrived to put up all the tents and get the communications and power in place. The main body of the MEU arrived shortly after, falling in on the structures raised.
“We’re out here to see how we can establish a forward command operations center … away from what we’re used to,” said Cpl. Dominique Artagos, integrated maintenance management specialist with 26th MEU from Cleveland, Ohio. “We’re pitching tents, setting up communications, setting up Internet, transport and maintenance, making sure the MEU can operate in these circumstances.”
In addition to setting up infrastructure, each unit will focus on various types of training specific to their purpose in the MAGTF, such as live firing weapons systems for the ground combat element, providing personnel lifts for the air combat element, and honing convoy skills for the logistics combat element. Although only a small sampling of the capabilities each brings to the fight, it represents skill sets each unit has practiced on its own, but now needs to prepare to do alongside and in support of three others.
The Marines and sailors are testing their limits and identifying weaknesses and strengths, which all needs to be done before they must integrate even more at the MEU Interop, which will show how the units can work together.
“Napoleon said, ‘Men always take into consideration their wants, and never their abilities,’” said Artagos. “Once we figure out what we can do, we can run smoothly from there.”