CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Despite uncertainties caused by the mass deployment of Navy and Marine forces to support Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, the expeditionary strike group (ESG) concept is back on track for the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
The 22nd MEU was originally slated to deploy with the first-ever ESG in August, but the war in Iraq reallocated the ships and units with which the MEU was to deploy, and its deployment 'slid to the right.' As the MEU Command Element prepares to obtain operational control of its major subordinate elements (ground and aviation combat elements, and combat service support element) next month, it is likewise planning to integrate itself with the additional assets of the ESG.
Commanded by Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the 22nd MEU will deploy aboard the USS WASP (LHD-1), USS SHREVEPORT (LPD-12), and USS WHIDBEY ISLAND (LSD-41). The ESG concept will reinforce these ships with several Navy combatant ships, including two cruisers, a destroyer, and a submarine, all supported by Navy P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft. Collectively, the 22nd MEU and Navy ships will be called the 'WASP Expeditionary Strike Group' while the Navy's contribution to the force will be referred to as the 'Wasp Strike Group.'
Among the contributions these additional combat forces bring to the fight are long-range guns, cruise missiles, and significant anti-air and anti-submarine capabilities.
The distinction of serving with the first ESG now falls to the West Coast-based 13th MEU, who will deploy later this year. Although the basic composition of the two ESGs will be the same, the most obvious difference will lie in their respective command structures.
While the Wasp ESG will retain the traditional parallel command relationship (supported/supporting) between the Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) and MEU Commander, the West Coast ESG will introduce another command level that places a Navy admiral, or perhaps in the future, a Marine general, in charge of the entire force.
Officials concede that many people will look at the MEU's deployments to validate or disprove the ESG concept, but assert the purpose of the deployments 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," said Rear Admiral Michael P. Nowakowski, Commander, Amphibious Squadron Two in a speech to the 22nd MEU last December. "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."
Evaluations from the two deployments will determine which command structure for the ESG works better, and future deployments will be tailored with these results in mind.
For more information on the organization, mission and status of the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.