22d MEU, CAMP LEJEUNE, Nc -- When the artillerymen of Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marines recently trudged across the sands of Onslow Beach, they did so without their M198 155mm Howitzers in tow.
Instead, the battery carried riot shields, shotguns, and most importantly, the knowledge that the training mission they were preparing to carry out might soon become a reality. As the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit's (MEU's) designated embassy reinforcement force, Charlie Battery conducted a mock embassy reinforcement aboard MCAS New River as part of the 22d MEU's Amphibious Ready Group Exercise (ARGEX).
"This (embassy reinforcement) is our secondary mission, yet the more likely of the two we'll execute since few missions the MEU performs warrant the employment of our guns," said Capt. Daniel W. Geisenhof, of Endicott, New York, Charlie Battery's commanding officer.
In recent years, Marines deployed with the Corps' seven MEUs have performed a number of embassy reinforcements, including missions in such far-flung lands as Liberia, Kenya, Somalia and Albania.
Two days into ARGEX, the MEU, floating offshore aboard the USS Wasp, Trenton and Oak Hill, received word that an American "embassy" was being threatened by internal turmoil and regional instability. Within hours, the approximately 100-man battery and its supporting attachments were brought ashore by Navy landing craft and tactically moved to the compound.
"I was surprised at how we came in," said Lance Cpl. Gasper Aguila, of Portland, Oregon, a cannoneer serving with the battery. "I was expecting to storm in and set up a perimeter, but instead we came in low key so we wouldn't rile the locals."
The locals referred to by Aguila were in fact off-duty Marine role-players who scoured the area around the compound, hurling both taunts and projectiles at the Marines on post to simulate conductions that might be encountered in a real-world situation.
Over a period of five days, the battery maintained a strong posture in and around the embassy compound. At one point, when a group of particularly boisterous protesters threw themselves at the embassy gate, the battery's reaction platoon went in and dispersed the crowd.
"The adrenaline was really pumping," said Aguila, who served in the reaction platoon. "They kept coming at us. It's some of the most hard core training we've seen."
To prepare for this and other eventualities, Capt. Geisenhof said the battery underwent an exhaustive training regimen that included the Special Operations Training Group's Non-Lethal Weapons Course. The battery also took every opportunity to hone its infantry skills to better prepare it for any mission that comes its way.
"Overall, the battery performed exceptionally well," said Geisenhof. "We can always tighten up in a few areas, and continue to stress small unit leadership, but I'm very happy with the battery's performance."
When the embassy was ordered evacuated the fifth day, the battery assisted in a non-combatant evacuation (NEO) alongside Marines from MEU Service Support Group 22 (MSSG-22) and then returned to the USS Wasp, their mission complete.
Lance Cpl. Jay R. Janetski is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native assigned to the battery's fire direction control center and applauded the realism of the training.
"The training is really good," said Janetski. "The whole scenario has been unpredictable, just like it would be in real life. We're not really sure what's gonna happen, so we keep reacting to what they're throwing at us."
The embassy reinforcement undertaken by Charlie Battery was but one of several missions conducted by the 22nd MEU during ARGEX, all of which constitute standard pre-deployment training for outbound MEUs.
For more information on the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's website at www.usmc.mil/22meu.