ABOARD USS BATAAN -- As the sun rose here Jan. 30, changes were visible everywhere as the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit entered the Suez Canal aboard the ships of the Bataan Strike Group.
The endless expanse of ocean which had engulfed the unit much of the time since departing North Carolina on a routine, scheduled deployment Jan. 6, was nowhere to be seen, replaced on both sides of the ship by sparsely populated desert.
The green digital utility uniforms the MEU's troops had worn since activating June 23, 2006, were gone, replaced by a desert pattern to match the arid shoreline.
While the physical shifts were easy to see, the MEU changed more than its appearance and scenery by moving into the Suez and out of U.S. European Command's area of responsibility (AOR).
United States Central Command, which counts Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa in its AOR, now assumes operational control of the MEU, 'A Certain Force in an Uncertain World'.
The change in AOR's signals the beginning of a new phase in the deployment as the unit adjusts its focus from preparation to total force readiness, said Capt. Scott D. Welborn, the MEU's training and target acquisition officer.
As the unit passed through EUCOM's AOR, its concentration was bent on continuing to build on the solid foundation it developed during its six-month pre-deployment training program (PTP), he explained.
To put the final touches on its training, troops participated in live-fire Enhanced Marksmanship Program ranges, attended classes and briefs, and continued to fulfill annual requirements in everything from deck-landing qualifications to basic Marine Corps knowledge tests.
The continuous training served not only to further sharpen the MEU's operational edge, but also to maintain a constant state of readiness among its Marines and Sailors, said Col. Gregg A. Sturdevant, 26th MEU commanding officer.
"I am continually impressed with the performance and motivation of [our troops]," he explained. "During [our time in EUCOM's AOR], we took advantage of every training opportunity our schedule permitted."
Now that CENTCOM has assumed operational control of the MEU, the unit is focused on being ready to carry out any of the contingency-based missions it has been preparing for since activating last year, said Welborn.
"This is the culmination of seven months of training and preparation," he explained. "The Marines and Sailors of the MEU are eager to serve our nation however they may be needed during our time in CENTCOM."
Those needs may include anything from providing humanitarian assistance to engaging in full-scale combat operations, he added.
More than anything, it is important for the MEU's troops to keep an open mind about the unit's possible undertakings in CENTCOM's AOR, said Sturdevant.
"I need everyone to remember the situation in CENTCOM's AOR is extremely fluid," he explained. "There are a variety of potential missions the MEU could be called on to perform and it's possible for us to change direction from one day to the next."
"I urge everyone to not let the uncertainty frustrate them, we must stay focused and remain flexible," he finished.
The 26th MEU is composed of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 2/2; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion-26.
For more information on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.