ABOARD THE USS WASP IN THE ADRIATIC SEA -- Five days of near-steady rain, blasting winds, and temperatures hovering near the freezing mark did nothing to detract the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) from successfully completing an amphibious landing exercise (PHIBLEX) in the east European nation of Albania.
The brunt of the training ashore was conducted by the MEU's ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, who began landing in Albania via helicopter and landing craft on March 8.
"The BLT operated in three different locations while ashore in Albania," said Lt. Col. Asad A. Khan, BLT 1/6's commanding officer. "Doing so [widespread dispersion of forces] challenged our command and control sustainment, and more importantly, the terrain, weather and live fire opportunities were exactly what we needed to maintain our fighting skills."
The five-day PHIBLEX brought ashore nearly all of the Marines and Sailors assigned to BLT 1/6's headquarters and three organic rifle companies, weapons company, and attachments to training areas in the northern part of Albania. The Marines assigned to the unit's tank and amphibious assault vehicle platoons left their vehicles aboard ship to reinforce their small unit infantry skills while the artillerymen of Golf Battery came ashore without their M198 155mm howitzers. The heaviest weapons brought ashore were the BLT's reinforced platoon of light armored vehicles (LAVs) and the anti-tank missile and machine gun-equipped Humvees of the Combined Anti-Armor Team (Heavy) Platoon.
An integral part of the training was the extensive live firing conducted by the Marines, many of whom had the opportunity to fire weapons other than those they normally carry.
"It was really good training," said Lance Cpl. Jason C. Taylor, or Piqua, Ohio, a scout assigned to the Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Platoon, who put down his M-16A2 service rifle and fired the Beretta 9mm pistol, M-240G medium machine gun, M-249 squad automatic weapon, and spotting rounds from the Special Purpose Assault Weapon (SMAW). "I got to shoot a lot of rounds from weapons I don't usually get to use."
Further south from where the majority of the small unit training took place, a supporting arms exercise brought heavier arms to bear. In addition to ferrying Marines to training areas ashore, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced)'s attack helicopters and Harriers joined 81mm mortars and naval gunfire in saturating ranges with high explosive rounds.
"Albania provides a MAGTF an ideal place to train across all its capabilities from small unit live fire to naval surface fires," said Khan upon returning to the USS WASP. "It [PHIBLEX] allowed our noncommissioned officers to focus on small unit skills and live fire which will be essential for us as we continue to prepare for combat operations."
In addition to BLT 1/6 and HMM-266 (Rein), the 22d MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element and MSSG-22 who also put forces ashore in Albania though to a lesser extent. The unit left Camp Lejeune Feb. 19 aboard the amphibious assault ships WASP, WHIDBEY ISLAND, and SHREVEPORT as part of Expeditionary Strike Group 2.
For more information on the organization, mission, and status of the 22d MEU (SOC), visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.