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Harrier II attack jets from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced), 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, practice take-offs from the flight deck of the USS Bataan (LHD 5) August 19, 2006.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Jeremy T. Ross

26th MEU adjusts to ship life during ESGINT

25 Aug 2006 | Lance Cpl. Aaron J. Rock

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit completed its Expeditionary Strike Group Integration Training here, August 24.  The training, part of the 26th MEU's six month pre-deployment training cycle, was the first time the elements of the MEU loaded their equipment and personnel aboard the ships that will make up the Bataan ESG.

The MEU practiced and refined its rapid response planning process, planned and conducted multiple raids, and practiced beachhead onload and offload procedures, all while the MEU adjusted to conducting operations aboard the ships of the ESG.

The exercise was important to both the 26th MEU and for the Sailors of the Bataan ESG, said Colonel Gregg A. Sturdevant, commanding officer of the 26th MEU. 

"It allows us to get a better understanding of each other's capabilities and helps us to do our job," he said, adding, "It helps us to take the blue-green team training and take it to the next level."

The ESGINT is an escalation of the training the MEU's elements began at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., and involved almost 2,300 Marines and Sailors from the MEU.

"It brings together everything in a more complex environment and there are more moving parts," said Capt. William A. Keller, assistant air officer for the 26th MEU. 
The 26th MEU's administration office bore the responsibility of keeping track of personnel movements and numbers.

Personnel constantly moving around and embarking and debarking the ships in the ESG are some of the biggest challenges, said Gunnery Sgt. Ingrid N. Dorer, the 26th MEU administration chief.

"A.P. Hill basically involved a morning report for us, there wasn't the kind of movement involved like there is here," she said.  "There are people coming in and leaving on different days, on [Landing Crafts, Air Cushioned] and aboard aircraft."

The technological limitations of being at sea are also one of the concerns the administration shop has encountered, Dorer said.

"With all the software and technology we need and the level of connectivity we have on the ship, it can be difficult," she said, adding, "Exercises like ESGINT let us find out what works, what doesn't, what we need to improve, and what we need to reinvent, while still maintaining the integrity of the job we're doing."

The maintenance of the communications systems and technology falls upon the 61 Marines of the MEU's communication section, which ensures the systems are installed and working properly.

The ESGINT allows them to integrate the command and control systems into the MEU's communications architecture, said Capt. Johnnie D. Jones, assistant communications officer for the 26th MEU.

"It allows us to take what we learned at A.P. Hill and use it to improve communications for the staff," he said.  "We're refining the network to support the command staff's information management requirements."

Jones said his Marines provide communications that allow the command to collect and process the data and useful information they receive, which in turn allows them to make timely decisions during mission planning and execution.

The ESGINT forced the MEU to refine its communications networks, which is especially important aboard ship, said Sturdevant.

"When you go aboard ship and [the commands] are spread out among decks, it forces us to make sure our communications systems are functioning properly," he said.  "It is more difficult to coordinate across three different decks."

Overall the MEU has improved greatly since the unit was activated and throughout the exercises during the workups, said Sturdevant.

"Across the board, the planning, briefing, and execution of the different raid packages has improved," he said.  "We have come a long way; I'm extremely pleased with the progress we've made."

The 26th MEU is approximately halfway through its pre-deployment period designed to facilitate the merger of the disparate elements of the MEU into a cohesive, rapid-reaction force.   The 26th MEU will continue to prepare for a scheduled early 2007 deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

For more information on the 26th MEU, go to www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.

 

26th Marine Expeditionary Unit