FORT PICKETT, Va. -- The ranges at Fort Pickett, Va., have gone cold for Marine Expeditionary Unit 26 as it is concluded the first phase of its pre-deployment training program, Sept. 21, 2012. This is the first major exercise the 26th MEU has conducted since its composite as a complete Marine Air-Ground Task Force.
“The day the MEU composited was the day that we began our movement up to Fort Pickett,“ said Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, a Jarrettsville, Md., native and 26th MEU commanding officer. “The MEU went from a command element of less than 200 Marines and sailors to 2,300 Marines and sailors.”
Through the training at Fort Pickett, multiple ranges were utilized allowing the Marines to hone their skills in day and night, patrols and convoys utilizing a plethora of weapon systems including M121 120mm mortar systems, Javelin shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, and M240B machine guns. Aside from a combat perspective, it gave a chance for other units to field test new systems like Combat Logistics Battalion 26’s new lightweight water purification system.
Aside from accomplishing multiple objectives on the 26th MEU’s mission essential task list, Lance Cpl. Michael Lazor, a Pittsburgh native and India Company assistant patrol leader from BLT 3/2, said Fort Pickett has helped to further develop his unit’s overall cohesiveness and bond between Marines at the fire team and squad levels.
“From a training perspective, our focus here was on the individual and small unit level: The individual Marines, fire teams, squad and up to the platoon-size training. This is really the one opportunity in the larger six-month PTP where Battalion Landing Team 3/2, (Combat Logistics Battalion) 26 and the command element were able to work at the small unit tactical level. This is where you build your success. Its always our goal to master the basics of shooting, moving and communicating, but if you are able to achieve success at the individual and small unit level, that really becomes – as I see it – the foundation for the larger scale missions the MAGTF will execute at the company level.”
Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 Reinforced, the MEU’s air combat element, directly assisted the ground units with necessary aviation support.
While the Marines were heavily focused on executing and perfecting their training, St. Clair said he spent most of his days out on the ranges talking to the Marines of all levels, observing their performance, and feeling pleased in their abilities.
“When you look at what is coming in the future for the BLT at the company level, I can see that they are going to have success due to the success they have had here at the platoon and squad level. So, I am very confident in the capabilities they will have as the company raid forces.”
St. Clair said of everything he saw, the one thing that stuck out was the resilience of the Marines. On Sept. 18, 2012, Fort Pickett received excessive amounts of rain, which did not hinder any of the Marines training.
“One of the things that really stood out is when we were out with Kilo Battery. They spent a lot of time with their 120mm mortars, but this day they were focused on some very basic fire team movement and they were doing a very basic fire team and movement course. It was a downpour all day and those Marines were on the range standing in the rain, doing their rehearsals. ‘I’m up, he sees me, I’m down’ and boom, down into the puddles; in the rain, in the mud, and getting up with a smile on the face, looking eager and anxious just to go and complete the course to move onto the live firing piece to it. They did it in those miserable conditions all day, but they were enthused and energetic, staying focused, and critiquing themselves with a smile on their face. That gave me a very good indicator of the quality and caliber of the Marines we have had come to this MEU to make it a MAGTF.”
The 26th MEU is scheduled to deploy in 2013.