CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to Camp Lejeune Nov. 12, 2012, after providing support to disaster relief operations in New York following Hurricane Sandy. The 26th MEU, with aviation support from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 467 and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., assisted local and federal emergency and disaster relief organizations in beginning clean up of the brutally damaged areas.
“We stand united when disasters like this happen. We came together to get the job done,” said Cpl. Dylan Pierce, an operations clerk from New Bern, N.C. “It goes beyond just the Marine Corps. We went out as Americans helping Americans.”
The MEU deployed Nov. 1, flying north in MV-22B Osprey organic to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 Reinforced, the MEU’s aviation combat element. Marines and sailors flew to the USS Wasp (LHD-1), an amphibious assault ship specifically designed and positioned for the purpose of supporting the 26th MEU’s mission.
“I saw neighbors helping neighbors. That kind of attitude – that kind of resiliency – is one of the things that makes America great. The ability to look around, see that something needs to get done, and begin helping ourselves,” said Capt. Glenn Jensen, anti-terrorism force protection officer from Peoria, Az.
With elements from all of the reinforcements of the unit embarked aboard ship, 26th MEU Marines and sailors began conducting operations on Staten Island and Queens. Marines flew into the affected areas and linked up with local authorities to enable the most efficient use of the resources the MEU represented.
“I think it shows that no matter where you are, we can be there,” said Pierce. “We were called up and deployed within 24 hours.”
Marines on the ground assisted by clearing debris out of the streets and alleys, allowing Marine engineers to pump standing water out of neighborhoods flooded by the storm surge. “I appreciate being able to go out and make a difference when someone needed help,” said Pierce.
Other teams of Marines cleaned up Staten Island, filling dozens of trash trucks full of debris from destroyed homes and infrastructure that had washed inland and was blocking points of access throughout the narrow streets. Marines also assisted Red Cross personnel in handing out food and supplies to families whose houses were unlivable.
MEU Marines and sailors were in support of missions assigned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and worked alongside personnel from the Navy, National Guard, and Air Force. “There were all four armed services, together, in one location, moving out, accomplishing the same goal,” said Jensen. “It wasn’t just us.”
All of this was completed while operating from the USS Wasp, relying on the ship, rather on the already-fragile local infrastructure, resources, and facilities already taxed to capacity. Marines were able to avoid hang-ups on clogged and damaged roads by flying or riding landing craft straight to the affected areas, and then recovering each night back to the ship. Sea-based operations provided the MEU a degree of versatility not afforded to other units operating in the area, due to their reliance on wheeled vehicles trying to navigate the damaged infrastructure. Marines were able to get exactly where they were needed, accomplish their task quickly and effectively, and leave without requiring support from local organizations.
“That ability for us to not be in the situation – to not be a drain on resources in the situation – is huge. It’s what makes the MEU successful in a lot of different operations – for a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief situation especially. Instead of having to feed us, house us … we’re able to take care of our own basic necessities, and that’s all done on the ship,” said Jensen.
The 26th MEU, currently training for its upcoming deployment, will continue readying itself for future operations all over the world, both afloat and ashore during its 2013 deployment. As an expeditionary force operating from the sea, the MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response, and limited contingency operations.