CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- In a unique allocation of forces within the II Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point was recently redesignated as MEU Service Support Group 22.
This redesignation marks the first time in the history of II MEF that a wing support squadron will deploy with a MEU. Normally tasked with providing aviation units with ground support such as medical assistance, communications, weather forecasting, food service, engineering, motor transport, and explosive ordnance disposal, MWSS-274's assumption of duties as a MSSG are not a far cry its normal mission.
"Combat service support is combat service support," said Lt. Col. Benjamin R. Braden, commanding officer of the newly-activated MSSG-22, in an address during the unit's activation ceremony. "We are all excited about this opportunity and look forward to our new mission."
The redesignation of MWSS-274 was brought about by the deployment of 2nd Force Service Support Group forces in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom that caused a rift in the normal allocation of combat service support forces available to staff the MSSG. To fill these gaps, planners within II MEF were forced to think 'outside the box' to accomplish this mission.
Navy Capt. Steven J. Connelly, Commanding Officer of 2nd FSSG (Rear), to whom MSSG-22 reports until the unit officially falls under the operational control of the 22nd MEU, applauded MWSS-274's seamless transition from aviation to traditional ground support.
"This is a very unique situation, and calls for a unique solution," said Connelly. "It implies significant confidence in the Carolina-based Marine-Air-Ground Task Forces, and we have every confidence that when the bell rings for the unit to deploy, they will be well-led and superbly trained."
Braden, a former enlisted Marine who rose to the rank of gunnery sergeant before transitioning to the officer ranks, went on to say that the only real difference between his unit and a traditional MSSG exclusively from the 2nd FSSG is the lack of maintenance Marines.
"We'll receive augments from the FSSG to fill these positions," said Braden, an Albuquerque, N.M., native. "There will be something of a learning curve, but my Marines are more than up to it."
One of the more fortuitous aspects of the MWSS-274 redesignation is the presence of Sgt. Maj. Albert Stiney, the unit's senior enlisted Marine. A native of Hillside, Md., Stiney deployed as the MSSG-22 sergeant major during the unit's most recent deployment to the Mediterranean, Horn of Africa, Persian Gulf, and south Asia regions. According to Braden, Stiney brings with him invaluable residual knowledge of the workings of an MSSG and provides much-needed mentoring throughout the unit's enlisted and officer ranks.
MWSS-274 traces its roots to June 2, 1986 when it 'stood up' aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., the unit's home station. This activation was in fact the consolidation of several individual support units into a unified command that helped streamline the support the unit provided to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Since its establishment, MWSS-274 has participated in exercises and operations throughout the United States and abroad, and in 1990-91, deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operations Desert Shield/Storm.
The newly-activated MSSG-22 traces its lineage back more than 20 years, during which the unit has seen operational service in such far-flung locales as Grenada, Beirut, Liberia, Djibouti, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Albania, among many others.
In addition to MSSG-22, the 22nd MEU will deploy with a battalion landing team from the 2nd Marine Division and a reinforced Marine medium helicopter squadron from the 2nd MAW. All three units are scheduled to report to the MEU for planning and operational purposes in the upcoming months and will eventually deploy as the Landing Force for the U.S. Sixth Fleet after the MEU's exhaustive pre-deployment training period.
As he drew the activation ceremony to a close, Braden turned his unit's focus toward the mission at hand.
"We have a full plate before us," he said, addressing his Marines and an audience that included the II MEF Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Henry P. Osman, and representatives from the 22nd MEU, 2nd FSSG, and 2nd MAW. "There's much left to do, and we're going to do it right, do it safely, and do it now."
Upon completion of the upcoming deployment, Braden and his Marines will 'chop' back to 2nd MAW and reassume their duties as MWSS-274.
For more information on the organization, mission and status of the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.