Every week throughout the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s deployment, Marine officers from every corner of the MEU come together to learn about the very same amphibious operations that are going on around them every day.
The Expeditionary Warfare School is a Professional Military Education curriculum that all officers are required to take prior to being promoted to Major. Broken into four modules, the course is designed to cover every aspect of the Marine Corps. The officers aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) are enrolled in module 8664, also known as Amphibious Operations, which is being conducted aboard a forward-deployed embarked MEU for the first time in years.
“The reason that we chose to teach amphibious operations aboard the ship is because it is exactly what we are doing on the MEU,” said Maj. Matthew Cook, executive officer, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 (Reinforced), and one of two EWS instructors aboard. “It covers everything that encompasses amphibious operations and all of its supporting elements.”
Aboard ship, the course, which is typically taught in a classroom or online setting, offers the students a unique and tangible learning experience.
“It’s very valuable to be able to take everything we’re learning in the classroom and see its actual application and how it is used,” said Capt. Anthony Puopolo, engineer platoon commander, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 26, and EWS student. “Everyone has their own way of doing things, and being able to see how they make it work for them in an expeditionary environment is extremely valuable.”
On multiple occasions the Marines were able to learn about a topic in the classroom, and then go and experience first-hand what the lesson was about.
“We went over ship connectors in depth in the classroom and were then able to go down to the well deck and talk to the Sailors assigned to the Landing Craft Air Cushions and understand the actual capabilities,” said Capt. Ian Simpson, the engineer officer-in-charge for Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (BLT 2/6), and EWS student. “If you took this course in the rear, you might see a couple photos of an LCAC and learn about what the doctrine says are the capabilities, which often vary from what the crews experience firsthand, based on conditions and fuel, for example.”
Another unique aspect of the course is the ability for officers from all over the Marine Air Ground Task Force to come together and see how the other elements work.
“As a member of the Battalion Landing Team, I have a different perspective to an operation than an air or logistics officer will have,” Simpson said. “Being able to hear from them and see how our decisions affect each other is very eye opening, especially because they’re planning for the same missions as us, as part of the MEU.”
By offering first-hand experience, the course takes on a whole new level of value-added.
“Continuing to allow this course to be taught for a forward-deployed MEU not only helps students become PME complete, but gives them hands-on experience with the material that they are living and breathing, day in and day out,” Cook said. “You cannot get this experience at Camp Lejeune because back there, the students are not exposed to living and working with the Navy and Marine counterparts that we interact with daily, during everything from planning to executing missions.”
Being able to see everything that they are learning, many of the students feel that this is the best way for the class to be taught.
“What we’re learning in the classroom, we’re actually seeing in real time and it’s been a real eye opener,” said Capt. John Keldorph, a CH-53E Super Stallion pilot with VMM-162 (Rein.), and EWS student. “It helps you see the big picture in a way that you would never be able to get in a classroom.”