USS KEARSARGE -- The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is deployed aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), the amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD) and the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD). Marines and sailors aboard the ships live and work together each day, operating like a small city, with a common mission guiding them. Their personal expectations of the deployment will influence their experience while they are embarked.
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is deployed aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), the amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD) and the dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD). Marines and sailors aboard the ships live and work together each day, operating like a small city, with a common mission guiding them. Their personal expectations of the deployment will influence their experience while they are embarked.
“The Amphibious Ready Group/MEU is the ultimate ‘Swiss Army knife’ for the combatant commander ... providing a sea-based, flexible and scalable Marine Air Ground Task Force capable of conducting crisis response and limited contingency operations in support of U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Central Command,” said Col. Robert C. Fulford, the 26th MEU commanding officer. “
While operating abroad it’s imperative that Marines and sailors understand the mission and execute their jobs within the parameters set by it. This doesn’t prevent them from pursuing their own personal goals while they’re deployed. There are many opportunities to capitalize on, and different individuals from a variety of specialties have expressed their own personal goals and expectations of the deployment as they begin the voyage.
“I look forward to seeing new places,” said Sgt. Zachary Wotring, the 26th MEU police sergeant.
Personnel on ship are presented with a range of challenges and an environment unlike that of a land-based military installation. They face limited space, close interaction with peers and leadership and a limited number of ship services. There are promising things to look forward to though. One such occasion is the opportunity to tour new places.
“It’s not likely that I’ll get another opportunity to see any of the countries we port in again,” said Wotring. “I want to take time to appreciate the places we visit and have fun.”
For many, a port will mean training with a foreign military during a bilateral exercise or performing operations as part of a real world mission. Other ports may mean an opportunity for Marines and sailors to interact with the local community and experience the local culture through community relations and sporting events. Each port visit will offer the Marines and sailors the time to generate positive memories of their deployment experience.
Some Marines have expectations that focus on the operations the MEU may conduct to assist other countries and make an impact on the lives of others.
“I look forward to helping people and making a difference,” said Lance Cpl. James Shugart, a flight-line mechanic with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 (Reinforced).
The MEU is capable of responding to a wide array of operations within the military spectrum. This includes operations that improve the lives of others or provide for their health and well-being.
“I hope we get to provide humanitarian assistance or provide for someone in such a way that it could save their life,” said Shugart.
This is not with the hope nor expectation that a disaster would happen, said Shugart, but rather that we do something to help people abroad, and in the case that something does happen, that we assist.
Separation from family for extended periods of time can be difficult, but service members on the USS Kearsarge continuously find ways to stay optimistic and maintain high standards for themselves mentally, physically and spiritually while at sea.
“I’m working on getting more fit,” said Cpl. Kyle Hanuschak, a cyber-systems specialist with the MEU. “I’m allocating more of my free time to physical fitness and readiness.”
The gym on the Kearsarge is open nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the exception of one hour each day for cleaning and maintenance. Marines and sailors alike utilize the gym continuously within these hours of operation.
Exercise affords personnel a way to stay in shape, relieve stress and maintain their physical readiness to respond to any challenge at a moment’s notice.
Exercising one’s intellect is also possible.
“I hope my junior sailors will make time to pursue higher education while they have the time,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Bradley Turner, a machinist mate with Amphibious Squadron 4.
Educational opportunities are available on the ship. Marines and sailors can take college classes taught aboard the ship and receive credit for the classes upon completion.
“If I would’ve taken the time to complete classes on my previous deployments, I could be finished with the degree that I’m currently working on,” said Turner.
Turner has deployed three times. There were opportunities for education on each of these deployments, said Turner.
The possibilities for self-improvement while deployed are only limited by the individual.
“I’m planning to buy a car when I get home,” said Cpl. Timothy McGinnis, a battalion fires chief with Battalion Landing Team 2/6, 26th MEU. “So I’m using this time to save money because it’s easy to when there aren’t any distractions and you’re focused on work.”
The goals and expectations of the Marines and sailors aboard the USS Kearsarge vary from person to person and reflect a sense of optimism, strong character and readiness for this deployment.
“I could not be more proud or excited with the opportunity this deployment provides,” said Fulford. “We have a great team – who has proven our ability to deliver first class results on every task or mission assigned. One of the most challenging and inspiring aspects of deploying with a MEU is the inherent uncertainty associated with the specific missions we may be called upon to conduct while deployed. This uncertainty places a premium on maintaining our readiness to respond at all times across the spectrum of potential tasks, which means our aircraft and vehicles need to be well maintained and our Marines and sailors must maintain exemplary mental, physical and spiritual fitness while keeping our warfighting skills sharp. That is a high bar that I am confident our team is prepared to meet.
The MEU is prepared to respond to any mission the nation asks of it, but regardless of the type of mission, the Marines and sailors will have vast opportunities for self and unit improvement.
“There are three pillars of my end state for this deployment,” said Fulford. “First, the 26th MEU successfully accomplishes all tasks the Combatant Commanders assign to us. No matter what the mission, the MEU is ready to respond delivering on our promise that – we are the right force, at the right time and at the right place. Second, that we take care of our people, aircraft, equipment, and return safely home to Camp Lejeune [N.C.] upon completion of our deployment. Finally, I want every Marine and sailor in this MAGTF to be better personally and professionally as a result of this deployment. We are blessed with a unique opportunity to be a deployed MAGTF and I want all of us to make the most of what lies ahead. ”