NEW YORK -- Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit flew aboard USS Wasp, Nov. 1, 2012, to prepare to provide assistance to New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Within less than a day of receiving the order from the commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force, Marines and sailors boarded aircraft and sortied from bases in North Carolina to meet the amphibious assault ship as it sailed off the coast of New York, preparing to provide medical, logistical, engineering, and heavy airlift support to the storm-damaged areas if tasked by the secretary of defense.
“You set aside politics, you set aside everything. It’s Americans. And we’re here to help,” said Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, 26th MEU commanding officer. The MEU, a Marine Corps crisis response force designed to remain afloat for months at a time, is often called upon to help provide disaster relief abroad, but, thankfully, rarely on our home soil. “What’s important here is that the American public sees that their military can provide support to American cities, to American citizens, in a time of need.”
The 26th MEU is uniquely suited to the task. Operating off of a Navy vessel, the agility of the unit’s air assets ensure that aid can be delivered to anywhere within hundreds of miles. “We have the capability to fly, and we can support New Jersey. We can support New York City. We can support Connecticut – simultaneously. That’s what the MEU brings – the flexibility and the inherent capabilities that come with it.”
The assets the 26th MEU has embarked aboard the USS Wasp were picked specifically to give the unit many tools at its disposal for rendering assistance to the area. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 Reinforced, assisted by aircraft from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 366 and Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 467, have the UH-1N Huey and the CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters capable of moving large numbers of passengers, supplies, or equipment.
“This is another great example of the flexibility and responsiveness of the Navy-Marine Corps team,” said St. Clair. “Specifically, our ability to conduct these operations from the sea. We’re able to do something other services cannot do. We don’t have to have a large footprint on the shore. We can conduct all of our command and control from the sea.” The USS Wasp, purpose built to support the operations of a Marine expeditionary unit, is the perfect staging platform for this kind of operation. “The city of New York – the states – don’t have to find space to billet Marines. They don’t have to find space for our aircraft. Because we can recover back to the USS Wasp, and we can do that every day,” said St. Clair.
“We can assist with the ability to move supplies with our aviation assets. We can do a site survey to determine how bad an area is. We can help move and distribute supplies; water, food, blankets – pieces of equipment. If it can fit in a CH-53E, we can move it,” said St. Clair. “We can get supplies and people to areas that are affected, where the only means to get there may be aviation assets.”
Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 26, specializing in construction and debris removal, water purification and transport, electrical and generator work, medical support, and heavy machinery operation, give the commanding officer many options to offer governments and agencies requesting assistance. “The MEU has all these capabilities inherent to the MAGTF – the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. We’re able to respond quickly. We’re able to self-deploy. And the flexibility we have by being embarked on the USS Wasp allows for an afloat staging area,” said St. Clair.
“Something like this pulls America together. There’s support coming here from all over the country,” said St. Clair. The MEU is just one part of a larger plan, with other agencies and organizations coming together to provide assistance to the Northeast. “This is an example of what a true crisis response force is. It’s the MEU and the amphibious ready group. We moved to the affected area quickly, with a robust capability, and we’re posturing to support.”