NEW YORK -- Coming to the fleet is a unique experience for every Marine. Some spend years sitting on a base, some deploy immediately; some get exactly where they are hoping for, some have to wait a little longer. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s a rougher time.
But rarely, they’re deployed within two weeks of arriving at their unit to assist disaster recovery operations in their own homes after a hurricane tears through the area, doing untold damage.
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, 2nd Lt. Gerard Farao is one such example of the latter category. Assistant public affairs officer with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Farao arrived at the unit less than two weeks before packing all of his gear and flying with elements of the unit to assist in relief operations in the vicinity of New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s destructive course through the area.
“I grew up right across the river from New York City,” said Farao. “I was able to see the actual Ground Zero from my English classroom window.” Born and raised in New Jersey, he lived his entire life, never moving from the area before entering the Marine Corps. A finance major at Rutgers Business School, Farao was selected for Officer Candidate School. Selected as a public affairs officer by the Marine Corps, Farao is a graduate of the Defense Information School.
Following his graduation, he arrived the 26th MEU, stationed out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. Within days, he was in the field as the MEU continued its predeployment training program. As the storm swung wide of North Carolina and started bearing in on the northeast, he started to become concerned for his family and home.
“Once it got north, I was calling, asking if everyone was alright, if there was electricity,” said Farao. “In a weird way, I kind of wished I was home to experience it, just because, It’s where I’ve been all my life.”
When orders came down from II Marine Expeditionary Force for the 26th MEU to support disaster relief operations, Farao and other MEU Marines boarded MV-22B Osprey tiltrotors, flying north to embark aboard the USS Wasp.
USS Wasp is an amphibious assault carrier serving as the 26th MEU’s base of operations off the coast of New York and New Jersey, an ideal staging point for the aviation and logistics assets, and a perfect vessel for situating the hundreds of Marines supporting operations.
“Walking through some of these areas reminds me of my neighborhood a little bit, so it hits close to home. When you hear the stories of the people stuck and drowning in their homes and cars, it’s pretty grim,” said Farao. Farao is currently assisting clean-up operations on Staten Island with the 26th MEU.
The 26th MEU is able to provide generators, fuel, clean water, and helicopter lift capabilities to aid in disaster relief efforts. The 26th MEU is currently conducting pre-deployment training, preparing for their departure in 2013. As an expeditionary force operating from the sea the MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response, and limited contingency operations.