NAB LITTLE CREEK, VA -- The 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) took its first step toward deployment recently by attending its Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) Conference at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Virginia.In the past, such conferences were referred to as 'Amphibious Ready Group (ARG)-MEU' Conferences, but was changed because the 22d MEU will deploy as part of an ESG, a unit that combines Navy combatant ships with the three amphibious ships on which MEUs traditionally deploy. Despite the change in title and roster of attendees, the purpose of the conference has remained unchanged.The five-day conference, hosted by Marine Forces Atlantic's Expeditionary Warfare Training Group (EWTG), brought together the staffs of the 22d MEU and the amphibious and escort ships with which it will deploy early next year, and was instrumental in forging lasting and successful relationships that will guarantee future success."Over the years, the Navy and Marine Corps has had relationships that have gone up and down," explained Marine Lt. Gen. Henry P. Osman, Commanding General of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, in an address to the ESG Conference attendees. "However, one place where it remains consistent is at the grass-roots level of the ARG-MEU, and the relationships you build now will sustain you in the months to come."The first day of the conference was consumed by a series of briefs that introduced the various staffs of the Wasp ESG/MEU to one another. While Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., 22d MEU Commanding Officer, explained the nature of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) and the composition of the MEU, his staff was deluged with information on the specifics of the Navy amphibious and combatant ships on and with which they will deploy. Subject matter experts from external agencies provided briefs on topics such as psychological operations, civil affairs, interaction with American Embassies abroad, the function of non-governmental organizations, and information operations."It was very interesting," said 1st Lt. Brian O'Shea, assistant fire support coordinator for Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines (BLT 1/6), the MEU's ground combat element. O'Shea, a Philadelphia native, added that this deployment will be historic by deploying as part of an ESG. "We are making history and I'm proud to be part of it."Mid-day on the conference's second day, the attendees split into several different groups. The ESG's senior enlisted leadership got together to discuss troop-related issues while embarkers ironed out load plans and equipment distribution among the ships. The bulk of the attendees, however, underwent a lengthy introduction to the Rapid Response Planning Process (R2P2), a process that allows the MEU to develop operational plans and put 'boots on the ground' within a six-hour window. The conference culminated in the application of R2P2 toward three operational scenarios that ensured the lessons taught by the EWTG staff were well-received."Integrating into the ESG is the key to our success," said Col. McKenzie, who assumed command of the MEU last October. "We're [22d MEU] gonna invest our full resources into that endeavor."Capt. Steve Joachim, Commander of Amphibious Squadron Four, echoed Col. McKenzie's sentiment."We need to learn the synergies of everyone assigned to the ESG/MEU and realize their capabilities," said Joachim. "After all, the mission of supporting the Marines is our primary goal. When the day is over, properly supporting that 20-year-old standing atop a rubble pile with a rifle in his hand is our goal."The 22d MEU consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22. The MEU will embark aboard the amphibious ships USS Wasp, Whidbey Island, and Shreveport, and deploy alongside the cruisers Leyte Gulf and Yorktown, destroyer McFaul, and submarine Connecticut. The unit is scheduled to deploy in early 2004.For more information on the mission, organization and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.