CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- A dark cloud hung over the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit as the unit completed its first shipboard exercise off the North Carolina coast in preparation for its upcoming deployment.
High winds, crashing waves, and rough seas all descended on the three amphibious assault ships carrying the MEU as it conducted its amphibious specialty training, known in the past as type commanders amphibious training. AST is designed to give vehicle operators - airborne, rolling stock, and tracked - the opportunity to practice loading their vehicles onto the ships on which they will soon deploy.
Although the severe weather hampered many facets of the exercise, the Marines were able to make the best of a difficult situation. Landing Craft, Air Cushioned and Landing Craft, Utility, which are used to ferry equipment from shore to ship, pulled onto Camp Lejeune's Onslow Beach where truck, light armored vehicle, Humvee, and tank drivers practiced driving onto the landing craft, securing their vehicles, and then offloading.
Overseeing the beach operations was the Landing Support Detachment from MEU Service Support Group 22, the 22nd MEU's combat service support element. These Marines coordinated the loading operations on the beach and ensured vehicles and personnel are at the right place at the right time for boarding.
"We've been standing by for when the weather turns nice," said Cpl. Richard Kohn, of Jackson, Mich., a landing support specialist with MSSG-22 overseeing the training of the vehicle operators lined up near the landing craft. "Until then, we'll be doing driver's training for the motor transport Marines."
Drivers picked up on what to do quickly.
"They showed us exactly what do to," said Washington native Lance Cpl. Kenneth Wilkerson, a motor transport driver with MSSG-22. "It's good hands-on experience. I'm having a good time in spite of the weather."
Under their own power and independent of the landing craft, assault amphibian vehicles slated to deploy with the MEU braved the surf and reached their ship off shore, pulling into the well deck of the USS AUSTIN. Also at sea, helicopters and attack jets practiced landing on the pitching decks of the USS NASSAU, CARTER HALL, and AUSTIN.
In addition to the vehicle embark/debark training, AST provided many of the Marines and Sailors slated to deploy with the 22nd MEU their first taste of shipboard life. For Private 1st Class Christina Lindsey, the rough seas proved a difficult initiation.
"I felt drunk," said Lindsey, an administrative clerk with the MEU Command Element. "It was just constant sickness [that] didn't go away at night or during the day. Maybe after a month, I can say 'this is nothing'."
In spite of the foul weather, the Marines and Sailors refined landing craft procedures, integrated unfamiliar units, and introduced many to shipboard life.
In May, the 22nd MEU expects to obtain operational control of the units with which it will deploy later this year, and in addition to the MEU Command Element and MSSG-22, includes Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced).
For more information on the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.