22d MEU, CAMP LEJEUNE, NC -- Hosting the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit's (MEU) Training in an Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX) subjected the residents of several central Virginia communities to an array of inconveniences largely unseen in the past.
For two weeks in late October and early November, the thumping of helicopter rotors and sudden explosions in the night awakened the citizens of Petersburg, Richmond, Blackstone and Hopewell, Virginia.
Officials report few complaints were lodged throughout the two weeks of urban combat exercises and by and large, the community, well known for its patriotism, received the 22nd MEU with open arms.
In an effort to in some small way repay the local citizenry for their hospitality, a group of Marines and Sailors from the MEU volunteered a Saturday to community outreach projects.
"We've had some areas fall into disrepair," said Leonard A. Muse, Director of Planning and Community Development for Petersburg, Virginia, who was approached by the unit when it began preparing for TRUEX. "They asked what needed to be fixed and volunteered to help out."
The Marines and sailors undertook two projects in Petersburg; the clean up and restoration of facilities at Low Street Park and the painting of a Salvation Army homeless shelter.
Each of the MEU's major commands was represented by the volunteers, including officers and enlisted Marines and Sailors from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines (BLT 2/6), Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (HMM-261), MEU Service Support Group 22 (MSSG-22), and the 22nd MEU Command Element (CE).
Gunnery Sgt. Rodney L. Phillips, of Charleston, South Carolina, a 17-year Marine veteran, currently serving as HMM-261's administrative chief, says he derives a sense of fulfillment and pride from helping the community.
"I volunteered because I think it's good to help out the community and show the contributions Marines can make outside of combat," said Phillips.
After clearing away a rotted fence at Low Street Park, Phillips and half the volunteers restored a dilapidated restroom on the grounds, replacing splintered plank siding and broken or missing vents. Martinsville, Virginia native Captain Melvin Wooding Jr., the CE's adjutant, was among those who helped repaint the interior and exterior of the building and its attached deck.
"Actually it's fun to help out," said Wooding. "This sort of thing helps us give back to the community that has hosted us [the MEU] and we can walk away knowing we did something good."
At the Salvation Army homeless shelter, due to open later this year, the volunteers carefully painted a large room that will one day house and protect Petersburg's less fortunate citizens.
Muse, who coordinated the volunteer efforts with the MEU staff, said the projects would have long-lasting benefits for the community. "It will be a nicer place for children to play and for families to visit," he said of the restored park, where vandalism, litter and neglect had been wiped away by the volunteer's daylong efforts.
For Lance Corporal Thomas Alston, a videographer assigned to the 22d MEU's Public Affairs Office, the project had special meaning. A native of Richmond, he returned to the area for TRUEX and jumped at the chance to help out in his hometown.
"If things are going to get better," Alston said, "it needs to start somewhere and when I heard about these projects, I wanted to do my part and give back to my hometown."
The TRUEX waspart of the 22nd MEU's standard pre-deployment training designed to prepare the unit for its next Mediterranean and Persian Gulf deployment, scheduled to begin next spring.
For additional information regarding the 22nd MEU, visit its website at www.usmc.mil/22meu.