CAMP LEJEUNE, NC -- When the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) steams eastward from North Carolina next summer to assume its role as the landing force for the U.S. Sixth Fleet, it will do so packing a combat punch never before seen in an amphibious ready group (ARG).
The 22d MEU was selected to serve as the first MEU to deploy as the centerpiece of an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), an experimental concept that seeks to enhance the striking power of the MEU. Under its current structure, amphibious ready groups (ARGs) bearing MEUs consist of an amphibious assault ship (LHA or LHD), a dock landing ship (LSD), and an amphibious transport dock (LPD), and is referred to as a "MEU-ARG."
An ESG represents a significant expansion of this organization. In addition to those assets, the ESG will consist of several Navy combatants, including a cruiser, destroyer, frigate, and submarine, all supported by P3C Orion surveillance aircraft. While the MEU retains its title, the entire flotilla, amphibious ships and combatants, will collectively be called a "ESG."
"We're really excited as the first ESG gets off the ground and picks up steam," said Rear Admiral Michael P. Nowakowski, Commander, Amphibious Group Two, speaking at the 22d MEU's ESG conference at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Virginia. "This new way of deploying expeditionary forces gives MEU commanders greater flexibility and a wider variety of missions."
"You represent a significant utility infielder," said Maj. Gen. Henry P. Osman, the Commanding General of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, following up on Nowakowski's comments. "You have capabilities that far exceed much larger-sized forces and we've seen that time and time again."
ARGs have been reinforced by combatant ships in theater in the past, most notably during recent operations in Afghanistan, but this will be the first time the ARG and supporting combatants have trained together, reinforcing much-needed cohesiveness from the start. In addition to its normal pre-deployment exercises, the MEU is scheduled to undertake an Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise in the spring that will enhance coordination among the various elements of ESG.
The 22d MEU, commanded by Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., will deploy with its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2d Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 162 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22 aboard the USS Saipan (LHA-2), Ponce (LPD-15), and Gunston Hall (LSD-44). The cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG-58), destroyer Gonzalez (DDG-66), frigate Nicholas (FFG-47), and submarine Miami (SSN-755) will round out the ESG, all of which will be commanded by a Navy captain (O6). Among the assets these ships bring to the fight are long-range guns, cruise missiles, and significant anti-air/submarine capabilities.
While Nowakowski and Osman concede that many people will look at the MEU's deployment to validate or disprove the ESG concept, both agree the purpose of the deployment will be to fight and win battles, and that the fledgling ESG concept will not interfere with that mission.
"We will never put Marines and Sailors at risk to prove a point," emphasized Nowakowski. "Despite the new structure [of the ESG], the one thing that doesn't change at the end of the day is that we must be combat-ready. Our main battery is still the Marines and the striking power they provide."
I MEF will likewise deploy an ESG sometime after the 22d MEU sets sail. The Peleliu ESG, centered around the 11th MEU, will deploy with the same complement of ships as the Saipan ESG, with the major difference being that the Peleliu ESG will be commanded by an admiral or general officer. Evaluations from the two deployments will determine which command structure works better.
For more information on the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.