ABOARD USS KEARSARGE --
Marines and sailors of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) crowded the USS Kearsarge's catwalks and observation decks for a final glimpse of North Carolina Thursday. After a harsh whistle blast and the announcement,"underway," the ship's bow rolled eastward away from the familiar waters of Onslow Bay.
The training was over; the deployment had begun.
During the six-month pre-deployment training cycle, the 22nd MEU conducted operations across the eastern seaboard from Florida to Virginia.
After their previous deployment to the tough streets of Ramadi, the Marines of Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, proved their mettle on the icy grounds of Fort A.P. Hill, Va. The pilots of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced) transformed target ranges at Pinecastle, Fla., into dust and rubble, and the Marines of Combat Logistics Battalion 22 saved scores of role-playing civilians from humanitarian crisis'and processed hundreds of "citizens" during non-combatant evacuation exercises.
Overall, the MEU worked as a seamless team to accomplish difficult missions over and over again.
The culminating exercise, known as CERTEX, or Certification Exercise, stood as the MEU's final pre-deployment hurdle. II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operations Training Group scrutinized the unit's performance and recommended the unit be given the"Special Operations Capable" (SOC) qualification.
The two preceding deployments brought the unit to lethal battlegrounds in Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently, the MEU is set to serve as a reserve force for Central Command's area of responsibility, which includes the Middle East and parts of Africa.
"The training we did during workups was as good as it gets,"said Lance Cpl. Joseph S. Jackson, a machine gunner with Weapons Platoon, Company I, BLT 3/8. "It definitely taught me what to look out for in case we do go to Iraq."
This time last year, Jackson said he was still in boot camp hearing his drill instructors lecture him on the certainty of deployment.
He took it to heart.
His brother, Lance Cpl. Anthony Gregory, has been to Iraq twice and is currently aboard the USS Ponce in BLT 3/8's Company L.
"I'm looking forward to traveling, and my only fear is going home after the deployment without my brother,"said Jackson.
The 22nd MEU (SOC), commanded by Col. Doug Stilwell, is a Marine Air Ground Task Force comprised of a Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and its Command Element.