ABOARD THE USS WASP IN THE ATLANTIC OCEAN -- After a week of nearly non-stop effort at Naval Station Rota, Spain, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) has completed its wash down and agricultural inspections and is headed home.
The wash down is a requirement for vehicles and gear leaving deployed areas to ensure foreign dirt, debris and animals do not unintentionally enter the United States.
MEU Service Support Group 22, the MEU's combat service support element, was instrumental in orchestrating the wash down which saw heavy focus on the MEU's fleet of trucks, Humvees, and other fighting vehicles.
After military policemen guided rolling stock from the three ships carrying the MEU to wash racks, Marines sprayed them down with high-pressure hoses and commenced to scrubbing. Vehicles with lots of nooks and crannies, such as a maintenance contact truck, were targets for close scrutiny by teams of inspectors scouring the piers.
"We failed four times before we passed," said Lance Cpl. Juan Garcia, of Miami, Fla., an MSSG-22 maintenance specialist. "There were so many crevices for dirt to hide in."
While most of the 22nd MEU (SOC)'s vehicles and equipment was cleaned during the week in Rota, Marines from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), the MEU's aviation combat element, had already spent two weeks before the ships pulled into port toiling over their aircraft.
Cpl. Kevin Yates, a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter crew chief from Spiro, Okla. said the most difficult part of the wash down was the attention to detail required to get the job done. Just getting into certain spaces, such as under the floorboards, required a little elbow grease.
"There are close to 200 screws on the floorboards," said Yates. "We had to use toothbrushes, sponges, a vacuum and a scribe. We pretty much tooth brushed the whole plane. It took us about three weeks."
Hand in hand with the wash down went an intense maintenance program to fix any mechanical problems that may have arisen during the deployment.
In spite of the workload and stringent agricultural and maintenance standards the Marines and Sailors had to meet, everyone put forth the extra effort to get the job done - making life a little easier on everyone involved.
"Everyone wants to go home so everyone put out a little more," said Garcia, commenting on the work load and long hours. "I thought this was going to be the longest week of my life."
After completing the wash down and pulling out of Rota, the MEU, embarked aboard the amphibious assault ships WASP, WHIDBEY ISLAND, and SHREVEPORT, began its trans-Atlantic voyage home toward North Carolina.
In addition to MSSG-22 and HMM-266 (Rein), the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element and Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marines.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC), visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.