AT SEA ABOARD THE USS WASP -- Approximately five months prior to embarking as the first Expeditionary Strike Group/MEU, hundreds of Marines and Sailors from the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) spent the first weeks of September at sea becoming familiar with shipboard life and conducting detailing training of ship-to-shore movement.
The MEU staff embarked aboard the USS WASP, the ESG/22d MEU flagship, for Type Commander's Amphibious Training (TCAT), then coordinated the on-load of different types of vehicles from throughout the MEU. With load plans nearly complete for two of the three amphibious ships that will make up the core of the WASP ESG/22d MEU, the MEU is taking advantage of all available training opportunities.
MEUs are not usually afforded the chance to get abaord ships and train this early in the pre-deployment training cycle, but TCAT was scheduled as the ships of the Navy's Amphibious Group 4 completed their maintenance cycle.
"TCAT is not traditionally a MEU exercise," said Lt. Col. Mike Killion, the 22d MEU's Operations Officer. According to Killion, the 2d Marine Division normally conducts TCAT, but the match-up of the amphibious ships' maintenance and the MEU's pre-deployment training program allowed to MEU to seize the shipboard opportunity.
"We are setting the foundation," said Killion. "We are already conducting safety drills, getting aircraft qualified to land on the ships, exercising the C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) architecture and establishing a daily battle rhythm."
"These objectives are usually established in the next phase of training at PMINT (PHIBRON/MEU Integration). Instead of learning to operating 'on' the boat during PMINT, we will be learning to operate 'from' the boat," Killion said.
The 22d MEU's aviation combat element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced), also took advantage of TCAT and gained pilot proficiency by landing on some of the ESG ships during both day and night flight operations.
"We leveraged the time [during TCAT] to get as many pilots as possible current on deck qualifications," said Maj. Mark Schaefer, Current Operations Officer for HMM-266 (Rein). The lack of available amphibious shipping due to military operations in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM left many of the squadron's younger pilots less familiar with flight operations aboard ship, added Schaefer.
Schaefer went on to say that during TCAT the ACE qualified 96 percent of its rotary pilots for daylight flight operations and approx. 40 percent for night. Additionally, 44 percent of the ACE's Harrier pilots are now current for daylight operations aboard ships. During the initial days of PMINT next month, the remaining day and night qualifications will be accomplished.
"We missed some opportunities due to ship availability and poor weather, but it was a good integration and learning experience for us," said Schaefer. "This training should allow PMINT to run much more smoothly."
In addition to its Command Element and HMM-266 (Rein), the 22d MEU will also consist of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines and MEU Service Support Group 22, both of whom also participated in PMINT. The unit is scheduled to deploy early next year aboard the USS WASP, SHREVEPORT, and WHIDBEY ISLAND as part of the WASP Expeditionary Strike Group/22d MEU.
The ESG concept is an experiment using additional Navy assets to 'beef up' the Amphibious Ready Groups and MEUs with additional ships, aviation assets, and a submarine. The WASP ESG/22d MEU will be the first deployment using the traditional 'supported-supporting' relationship between the Navy and Marine commanders. The 13th MEU deployed in August 2003 with the West Coast-based ESG-1, but uses a different command and control structure.
For more information on the organization, mission, and status of the 22d MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.