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II MEF Certifies First Special Operations-Capable MEU in a Decade
7 Jul 2023

II Marine Expeditionary Force has certified the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit as a Special Operations Capable Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

The designation of MEU(SOC) is a first for the Marine Corps in more than a decade. The designation continues to demonstrate the Marine Corps’ ability to integrate with the Joint Force in support of daily campaigning, crisis response, and integrated deterrence missions.

The 26th MEU(SOC) executed an enhanced pre-deployment training program (PTP) over the past seven months, validating the specific force design, equipment sets, and training continuum associated with a special operations capable Marine Air-Ground Task Force. A MEU(SOC) designation broadens a combatant commander’s options when considering responses to a variety of essential campaigning and crisis response options in their areas of operation. These additional options enhance the force projection that an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit team already provides and showcases how the ARG/MEU is ideal for both crisis response and campaigning with allies and partners, including allied and partner special operations forces (SOF).

“The MEU(SOC) designation is important as it more accurately describes the MAGTF operational capabilities our forward deployed Marine Expeditionary Units provide geographic combatant commanders as the Immediate Response Force (IRF) in support of ongoing campaigning activities or in times of crisis” said Col. Dennis Sampson, Commanding Officer of the 26th MEU(SOC).

After successfully demonstrating high proficiency and battle-staff competencies across all MAGTF mission essential tasks and warfighting functions, to include MEU/SOF-I3 (interoperability, integration, and interdependence), II MEF officially approved the re-designation to MEU(SOC).

“The MEU is a natural partner with special operations forces,” said Lt. Gen. David Ottignon, Commanding General of II Marine Expeditionary Force. “The 26th MEU(SOC) has demonstrated a high level of competency and proficiency in all mission sets, to include MEU/SOF-I3, throughout their entire work-up in preparation for the upcoming deployment. This advances the U.S. joint force’s naval warfighting capabilities as we offer a ready naval expeditionary force with greater operational capabilities. MEU(SOC) is a return to our maritime and littoral roots.”

The timing of the designation of the 26th MEU(SOC) follows their final advanced at-sea period, Composite Unit Training Exercise. The exercise ended June 8, 2023, serving as the unit’s culminating at-sea event within an intense seven-month enhanced PTP.

“The MEU(SOC) is a naval expeditionary force with the operational capabilities necessary to dominate within the littorals while fusing joint force capabilities – to include SOF – in support of a Joint Force Commander, Theater Special Operations Commander, or Fleet Commander.” said Sampson. “When combined with the Amphibious Ready Group, the MEU(SOC) is able to exploit the asymmetric advantages the sea provides as maneuver space over any potential adversary in concert with our SOF partners or complimentary to SOF activities.”

During the early stages of compositing the MAGTF, the 26th MEU(SOC) deliberately reorganized and trained Marines and Sailors from across II MEF to form the 26th MEU(SOC) Maritime Special Purpose Force (MSPF). The MSPF provides the MEU MAGTF Commander with a rapid, multi-domain, direct-action capability, coupled with highly specialized skills and enablers to meet the challenges associated with MAGTF and joint operations. The MSPF serves as the premier, all-domain action-arm of the MAGTF with special skills, capable of rapidly responding to emergent requirements and crises.

Originally developed in 1985, the MEU(SOC) program was spearheaded by the 28th Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Paul X. Kelley and undertaken by then II Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Alfred M. Gray. At that time, the 26 Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), the predecessor to 26th MEU, was the first unit to be certified as Special Operations Capable (SOC) under the command of Col. James M. Myatt. The re-designation and deployment certification of the 26th MEU(SOC) in 2023 is the first in more than a decade for II MEF and the Marine Corps.

“It’s fitting for the 26th MEU to be the MAGTF to re-establish the MEU(SOC), considering the legacy of the unit. We are very proud of our heritage and strive to honor the successes and sacrifices of those who have gone before us,” said Sampson.

The enhanced pre-deployment training was conducted in conjunction within the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, under the supervision of II MEF, within a realistic threat-based scenario reflective of U. S. 6th Fleet, 5th Fleet, and 7th Fleet operating environments. Additionally, during several of the major training events, the 26th MEU(SOC) worked directly with Theater Special Operations Commands and supported large scale exercises conducted by Naval Special Warfare Command, showcasing the 26th MEU(SOC) as the natural partner for SOF and the relevance of MEU/SOF-I3.

“MEU(SOC) highlights the relevancy, the true power projection capacity and unique maritime capabilities of our forward deployed MAGTFs operating within a fleet. This enhanced special operations capable MEU benefits II MEF, the Marine Corps, the joint force, and our nation,” said Ottignon.

Throughout the enhanced pre-deployment training, the 26th MEU(SOC) implemented a rigorous training program, including multiple MEU/SOF integrated events with elements of Naval Special Warfare Command and Marine Forces Special Operations Command. The integrated training between the 26th MEU(SOC)’s Maritime Special Purpose Raid Force and SOF personnel included tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, direct-action and combined-arms live-fire exercises such as simulated raids, and special patrol insertion and extraction, maritime interdiction operations, and non-combatant evacuation operations. This occurred during a series of land-based MEU exercises and advanced at-sea periods from distributed locations from the littorals of eastern North Carolina to the southern point of Florida.

“Close coordination and habitual relationships between conventional forces and SOF is important, especially when dealing with the complexities associated with the current operating environment,” said Col. William Lombardo, the II MEF Assistant Chief of Staff of Operations and a former Commanding Officer of 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. “The enhanced PTP and collective MEU/SOF integrated training events leading up to the re-designation as MEU(SOC) were intended to build trust with the SOF community. The 26th MEU(SOC) truly exceeded our initial expectations. These Marines are ready.”

For more information about the 26th MEU(SOC), please contact Capt Angelica White at 26MEU_COMMSTRAT@bataan.usmc.mil or angelica.white@usmc.mil.

To read more about Gen. Paul X. Kelley’s special report on “The Marine Corps and Special Operations”, please see the following article at this link: 1985-Oct-The-Marine-Corps-and-Special-Operations.pdf (mca-marines.org)