CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Hugs, tears and smiles greeted the Marines and sailors of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit Sept. 14-16 as they returned from a seven-month deployment spent mostly in the rugged Afghanistan terrain.
The 22nd MEU departed Camp Lejeune in mid-Feb., and following an amphibious exercise in Albanian, made their way deep into central Afghanistan. Their push of more than 500 miles inland marked one of the farthest by a MEU in Marine Corps history.
"I am proud to have went with you into combat," said MEU commander Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., at an awards presentation the day after returning aboard Camp Lejeune. McKenzie and his Marines, sailors and an additional Army infantry battalion operated for four months as Task Force Linebacker providing safety and security in an area absent of U.S. and coalition forces since the war on terror began in Oct. 2001.
The MEU was tasked with securing major population centers in the central Afghanistan region to allow U.N. election registration efforts to begin. They conducted extensive combat and civil-military operations, killing more than a hundred Taliban and anti-coalition militia fighters and starting more than a hundred civil affairs projects. Most importantly, the MEU's efforts allowed nearly 60,000 Afghan men and women to register to vote in the upcoming Oct. 9 election.
The day before Marines came ashore at Camp Lejeune, AV-8B Harriers from the MEU's Aviation Combat Element (ACE), launched from USS WASP and later landed safely at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point to a couple dozen families and friends waiting in the rain.
The Harriers and their aircrew flew more than 1,300 combat hours contributing significantly to the MEU's successful mission. Lieutenant Col. Sean C. Blochberger, the Harrier detachment's officer-in-charge, credited their success to the young maintainers who worked long hours to ensure the aircraft were mission ready.
The following morning Navy landing craft deposited Marines and their vehicles onto Onslow Beach a few miles from their loved ones and the numerous welcome home celebrations aboard Camp Lejeune. Throughout the next two days landing craft and helicopters delivered the remainder of the MEU and its equipment ashore.
Now that the MEU has returned, the priority of work shifts to maintenance and inspections. Each piece of equipment will be inspected for serviceability and readied for use again. Marines and sailors will also get an opportunity to take some leave to catch up with their families and get some well-deserved rest.
The 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), and MEU Service Support Group 22.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC), visit the unit's web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.