Fire support exercise brings 22d MEU heavy hitters together

28 Aug 2003 |

Time and again throughout military history, fire support has provided the decisive edge in battle.  For example, in 1453, heavy Turkish cannon battered the high, stout walls of Constantinople into useless piles of rubble.  World War II saw fast armadas of American warships mercilessly batter Japanese-held islands in the drive toward Japan, and during Operation DESERT STORM in 1991, an unrelenting 38-day air campaign by coalition aircraft turned the once-vaunted Iraqi army into a broken, starving mess.

To ensure its Marines and Sailors possess the skills to harness the awesome power of air, surface, and naval gunfire against its enemies, the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) recently conducted a Fire Support Interoperability (FSIOP) live fire training exercise aboard Camp Lejeune.

The five-day exercise brought together those responsible within the MEU and its supporting commands for ensuring fire support is available to the MEU and delivered in a timely, accurate manner.

"Conducting combined arms operations requires detailed integration at all levels and isn't something that happens overnight," said Capt. Travis Reese, of Lake Elsinore, Calif., the 22d MEU's Fire Support Officer.  "You only get better through practice and familiarizations with all elements involved."

Participating in the exercise were fire support specialists from the 22d MEU Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and Amphibious Squadron Four (on whose ships the MEU will deploy).

Since the exercise was the first time this wide range of individuals and units were brought together for a live fire exercise, substantial planning and preparation was the key to success.  The first step toward the 22d MEU's FSIOP actually began nearly two months before the first round was sent downrange.

For most of July, fire support planners from the MEU Command Element, BLT 1/6, and Amphibious Squadron Four met at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va. where they painstakingly drafted, reviewed, and revised fire support planning and coordination issues.  Coordination was also made with representatives from the George Washington carrier strike group, with whom the MEU will concurrently deploy and may serve alongside during their deployment.

While fire support training is an integral part of every MEU's work-up schedule, never before has this training more relevant for the 22d MEU.  When the unit deploys early next year, it will do so as part of the WASP Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG)/22d MEU.  This combat organization combines Naval surface combatant ships with the amphibious ships on which MEUs normally deploy, and brings to the fight naval guns, cruise missiles, and an enhanced air defense capability.

Another ESG, of which the 13th MEU (SOC) is part, recently deployed from California, and although its combat assets are nearly the same as the WASP ESG/22d MEU, the manner in which the unit is organized is much different.  Instead of the traditional 'supported-supporting' command relationship with which MEUs have successfully deployed for years, a Navy admiral was given overall command of the West Coast ESG/MEU and brought with him an entire staff to manage the employment of the force's weaponry.

The WASP ESG/22d MEU on the other hand, has instead simply augmented its existed fire support staffs to meet this additional responsibility.  The MEU's only fire support augments are 1st Lt. Allan J. Vienes and Cpl. Rafaei Figueroa, two artillery Marines attached to the fire support section of the 22d MEU Command Element. 

"I'm really excited to be with the MEU," said Vienes, a Waterford, Conn. native who came to the MEU from the 2d Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company.  "It's going to expand my knowledge of directing fires and give me an opportunity to work with systems I wouldn't normally be able to."

Vienes and Figueroa boost the strength of the MEU's fire support section up to five, and despite their relatively small numbers, they aren't intimated by the challenge.

"We won't have any problems," was Vienes said simply.

While planning and coordination were key elements of the FSIOP, it was the operators in the field who ensured the 'rubber met the road.'  For three of the exercise's five days, fire support assets organic to the MEU in the form of 155mm howitzers, 81mm mortars, AV-8B Harrier II attack jets, and AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters blasted ranges aboard Camp Lejeune.  Additionally, Navy fighter and strike aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 7 were brought into the mix as were Air Force combat aircraft from nearby Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

A great deal of the responsibility for coordinating these fires was levied upon the Marines assigned to the MEU's Air-Naval Gunfire Liaison Company detachment and forward observers from BLT 1/6, the MEU's ground combat element, who kept eyes on the objectives and guided the rounds onto target.

In addition to air and surface fires, naval gunfire control teams from the USS MCFAUL, LEYTE GULF, and YORKTOWN integrated with the MEU's artillery battery (Golf Battery, 2nd Bn., 10th Marines) and answered naval gunfire calls from within the battery's fire direction control center.

"Being able to practice not only our basic procedures but also having face time with the personnel coordinating and executing fires is invaluable," said Reese, commenting on the interaction between all the players in the exercise.  "Not only do we need to understand the doctrinal procedures, but also the intent of how the MEU intends to employ these fire support assets, and this exercise was instrumental to our future success."

The 22d MEU consists of its Command Element, BLT 1/6, HMM-266 (Rein), and MEU Service Support Group 22.  It is scheduled to deploy early next year aboard the USS WASP, SHREVEPORT, and WHIDBEY ISLAND.

For more information on the organization, mission and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit