MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
It’s been a long and busy year for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
From New Orleans to New York, from the exuberant displays of fleet weeks to rapid efficiency while conducting disaster relief operations in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the MEU has been demonstrating the strength and flexibility of its nature in ways few could anticipate.
And they’re only getting warmed up. The unit is still in its pre-deployment training cycle, preparing for its 2013 deployment at sea. Slated to sail east and participate in theater cooperation exercises, as well as support operations in Southwest Asia and respond to developing crises in its area of operations with the speed and flexibility a sea-based unit can provide, the MEU is one of the most effective and visible extensions of American foreign policy.
The MEU started 2012 without its three reinforcement commands and personnel. Comprised of less than 200 Marines and sailors, the unit was in the initial planning stages of pre-deployment, locking on when, where and who would be involved in the major training evolutions later in the year.
In April, the MEU packed its bags and went to sea. They brought along Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, which was reinforced with extra personnel and equipment assets for public display. Embarked aboard the USS Wasp, they traveled to New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., allowing the general public to come aboard while they were in port to see some of the equipment a MEU uses. The Marines and sailors also reached out to the locals through community service and attending a number of events held in honor of the special week. In New Orleans, Marines also took part in the celebrations of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 alongside naval service members from the Navy and Coast Guard, and from ships of the United Kingdom, France, Canada and many other countries.
After returning home, the unit began training for its upcoming deployment in earnest. Composting Sept. 7, 2012, the 26th MEU began its pre-deployment training program with a couple weeks of exercises at Fort Pickett, Va. Combining the strength of Battalion Landing Team 3/2 with the adaptability of Combat Logistics Battalion 26 and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 Reinforced, the MEU started taking the shape it would assume for the nearly yearlong deployment.
After returning home from Fort Pickett, the Marines and sailors of the BLT practiced their respective raids. Marines from Companies I, K and L will specialize in helicopter borne, mechanized, and motorized raids respectively – each company practicing a particular form of assault to increase their proficiency. Concurrently, the entirety of the MEU continued to focus on interoperability of the different elements, so they can perform as one during real-world operations.
In early November, they were presented their first opportunity to act as a team for disaster relief operations. Normally trained to help people abroad, this was a unique chance to help fellow Americans at home. Hurricane Sandy swept through the northeastern seaboard, smashing New York City and the surrounding areas. Military units from all over were called in to respond. The 26th MEU responded quickly and visibly. Called up and flown north inside 24 hours, the MEU embarked aboard the USS Wasp once more to bring aid to those in need. Flying operations every day, using the assets and manpower of the BLT, VMM and CLB, the MEU staunched the bleeding, providing assistance to the worst hit areas in Queens and Staten Island. The MEU leveraged its air assets to put boots on the ground in areas where other relief organizations simply could not go, pinned as it was by damaged roads and minimal information.
The MEU provided disaster relief support for nearly two weeks before being released back to training. The Marines and sailors returned home and got back to work preparing for their long mission.
Within a few weeks, Marines and sailors of the unit embarked aboard the USS Bataan, USS San Antonio, and USS Carter Hall. Participating in a group sail exercise, the Marines began familiarizing themselves with shipboard living and operations. The unit practiced operations across the spectrum, from mass casualty scenarios to ship-to-shore landings and maritime interdiction operations. With this training complete, the 26th MEU returned home in late December.
Many members of the team traveled home for the holidays to spend time with friends and family before their training is complete and the unit deploys. When they return, they’ll board the ships of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group to continue training. Following their final training exercises, they’ll steam east to the Mediterranean and from there to points unknown.
The 26th MEU operates continuously across the globe, providing the president and unified combatant commanders with a forward-deployed, sea-based quick reaction force. The MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response, and limited contingency operations.