ON A BEACH IN NORTHERN ALBANIA -- Sgt. Logan P. Ballew and his five man crew call their light armored vehicle 'Curahee.'
Popularized by the book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose, Currahee is a Native American phrase that loosely translates into 'Stand Alone Together,' and the six Marines charged with taking Curahee into battle find the name fitting.
"We chose Curahee because out here we work so closely together and depend on each other so much," said Ballew, a native of Ankeny, Iowa who serves as the vehicle commander, or VC, of Curahee.
The official designation of 'Curahee' is Blue One, and is part of a six-vehicle Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) platoon drawn from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2d LAR Bn. and temporarily assigned to Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, the ground combat element of the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).
"Our mission is to conduct route reconnaissance, screening operations, and support small unit raids," said Ballew, commenting on his platoon's mission. "Basically, we paint a picture for higher headquarters on what's ahead of them."
In conducting these missions, LAR will often be at the point of the preverbal tip of the MEU spear, and as the LAR platoon's point vehicle, Curahee will be that point's razor-sharp edge. For Curahee to be an effective weapon, the Marines who man it must work well together and not only fulfill their specific mission, but also support one another.
As VC, Ballew is responsible for the overall combat readiness of the LAV, as well as the training and supervision of its crew. A five-year veteran of the Corps, Ballew, whose red hair is shorn close to the scalp, once manned the air defense variant of the LAV while stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. However, when those versions of the vehicle were retired, he transitioned into the more common LAV-25, which sports a 25mm cannon and is often referred to as the 'gun' version.
If one were to look at the Marines manning Curahee in a linear manner, second-in-command of the vehicle would be Cpl. Michael D. Mosier, the vehicle's gunner who is responsible for identifying, engaging, and destroying targets with the LAV's lethal main gun. A deeply religious man from Bluffton, Indiana, Mosier has spent his entire two-and-a-half years in the Marine Corps with 2d LAR, and has followed the natural progression for LAV crewmen working their way up the ladder of responsibility.
After an initial stint as a driver, a LAV crewman, carrying the occupational designator of 0313, will serve as a gunner before eventually ascending to the position of VC. Occupying the driver's seat of Curahee is Lance Cpl. Larry W. Stultz. Hailing from Terra Haute, Indiana, Stultz is the crew's only married Marine and also served in a California-based air defense LAV unit before his assignment to 2d LAR. On Stultz' shoulders are not only placed the responsibility for driving the LAV, but also ensuring a comprehensive maintenance schedule is followed to keep the vehicle in good running order.
Rounding out the Curahee crew is its detachment of scouts. Led by Cpl. Mario M. Cece, an infantryman from Rockledge, Florida with nearly seven years of service under his belt in 2d LAR, the prime responsibility of the scout team is to serve as an extra set of eyes for the crew, cover the rear avenues of approach to the vehicle, and at times move forward of the LAV to check out and clear obstacles.
Upon entering the Marine Corps, Cece knew absolutely nothing about the LAV community.
"I'd never even heard of them [LAVs] before I enlisted," Cece said, "but now that I'm with LAR, I wouldn't trade it for anything."
One of the keys to the success and cohesiveness of the Curahee's crew is its adherence to the LAR community's long-standing practice of cross-training scouts to serve in crewmen positions. The vehicle's junior scouts, Lance Cpl. Donald L. Coakley, of Inverness, Florida and Piqua, Ohio native Lance Cpl. Jason C. Taylor have trained extensively alongside the LAV crewmen and either can step up and fill in for the driver or gunner in a pinch. Both scouts are well over six feet tall, making their time in the small rear compartment of the LAV a tight, uncomfortable experience, but both share their team leader's sentiment regarding service in LAR.
"I love being with LAR," Coakley sentiments simply.
The teamwork between the crewmen and scouts transcends their official job descriptions, as they all pitch in to get the job done regardless of what lay before them.
"We'll get out and bust rust with the crewmen," said Cece. "We help out with general, non-engine-related maintenance, and back at Lejeune and on the boat spend a lot of time helping make sure the vehicle's up and running."
With the exception of Taylor, the Curahee's Marines saw service in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, albeit with different LAR units, and all feel that the experience and knowledge carried over from that conflict has helped them grow into a tight, close-knit crew capable of undertaking any challenge that may arise during the rest of their deployment with the 22d MEU (SOC).
"We're a great crew," Mosier confidently announced on an Albanian beach as Curahee waited its turn to reembark aboard the amphibious assault ship WASP after a five-day amphibious landing exercise (PHIBLEX). Waving at his fellow crewmembers clustered in a small group chatting, he continued, "we all get along really well, have great camaraderie, and are as tight as any crew you could find."
In addition to BLT 1/6, the 22d MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22. The MEU left Camp Lejeune in mid-February aboard the amphibious assault ships WASP, WHIDBEY ISLAND, and SHREVEPORT as part of Expeditionary Strike Group 2.
For more information on the mission, organization, and status of the 22d MEU (SOC), visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.