CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- For years, Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) have deployed aboard three to five amphibious ships that form an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). It is from these vessels that the MEU's combat power is projected ashore.
However, the pending deployment of the 13th and 22d MEUs will mark a watershed moment in terms of how MEUs are organized for deployment. Both units will deploy as part of newly-conceived Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs), a unique combat organization with additional Navy combatant ships to the traditional ARG.
Slated for a fall deployment, the 13th MEU will be centered around the amphibious ship USS Pelileu, while the Wasp will serve as the centerpiece for the 22d MEU, and is scheduled to deploy early next year. Collectively, the Navy ships and MEU will be referred to as the Pelileu ESG and Wasp ESG/MEU.
While the basic organization of the two units remain the same, there will be fundamental differences between the two. Primarily, that difference lies in the units' command structures.
The West Coast-based Pelileu ESG will be commanded by a Navy admiral, and perhaps in the future, a Marine general officer. This command structure implies a lineal chain of command where the admiral retains operational control over all Marine and Navy forces assigned to the ESG.
On the other hand, the Wasp ESG/MEU will maintain the traditional command relationship under which ARG-MEUs have deployed for years. This affiliation is known as a 'supported-supporting' relationship and saw the Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) and MEU commanders, both O-6s, use their forces to support the other if they received an operational tasking, and vice versa. Instead of adding another layer of command as will be the case with the Pelileu ESG, the Wasp ESG/MEU will only require augmentation to existing staffs.
Lt. Col. Michael Killion, 22d MEU Operations Officer, likens the 'supported-supporting' relationship to a dog sled with the dogs representing the ESG's major elements and the mission at hand as the sled. Whoever receives the tasking, be it the ESG or the MEU, becomes the lead dog while everyone else helps pull the sled.
While this analogy may seem a bit simplistic, it's right on the mark and accurately describes the relationship MEU and PHIBRON commanders have fostered for years and employed with great success in operations across the globe.
Throughout the deployments of the 13th and 22d MEUs, the two command structures will be constantly evaluated and their respective merits and detractors will be taken into account.
"I have no doubt both experiments will be successful," said Marine Lt. Gen. Henry P. Osman, Commanding General of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, speaking at the 22d MEU's recent ESG Conference held at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Virginia. "The two systems [command structures] will be evaluated and the most successful will be the model for future ESG deployments."
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.