CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait --
The Aviation Combat Element for the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) transported approximately 600 soldiers and airmen from Iraq to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, supporting a scheduled troop rotation.
The group of soldiers and airmen consisted of elements of the 16th Military Police Brigade, currently stationed at Camp Bucca, Iraq. After spending eight months providing security at the camp, the soldiers and airmen welcomed the flight out of Iraq, the first leg of a journey back to the United States.
“This is possibly the best airlift we’ve ever seen,” said Air Force Capt. Thomas McGillicuddy, a troop commander with the 886th Expeditionary Security Force Squadron. “The Marines were timely, they were efficient – we’ve never seen something like that before.”
According to McGillicuddy, the originally scheduled assets that were to move the soldiers and airmen met with technical issues and faced other, critical missions.
“If the Marines hadn’t agreed to take us out, all of us would have been there for another 10 to 13 days, minimum,” said a relieved McGillicuddy as his troops were moved across the flight line aboard Camp Buehring, another step closer to reuniting with their loved ones back in the States.
The Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU(SOC) were conducting sustainment training when they got the call to support the mission. The mix of aviation, infantry and logistics elements that make up the flexible unit were a key reason the MEU was selected to conduct the mission, according to 22nd MEU(SOC) Commanding Officer Col. Doug Stilwell.
“The MEU is really the Swiss Army Knife of military units,” said Stilwell. “We can support a full spectrum of operations from sustained combat ashore and precision raids to humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, or a mission such as this where we provide aviation lift to a non-organic unit. Whether the situation involves a crisis or a unit needing support, when the 22nd MEU is around, we can take care of it.”
With the request for support coming only a few short days before the soldiers and airmen were scheduled to move, the Marines and sailors of the MEU rapidly and comprehensively planned the mission, ultimately resulting in a flawless execution, said Lt. Col James G. Flynn, the commanding officer for Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced), the Aviation Combat Element for the 22nd MEU(SOC).
“Throughout our deployment training, the ACE trained to support a multitude of missions,” said Flynn, the experienced leader of the squadron known as the Raging Bulls. “With the mix of aircraft we have in the squadron, the ACE can tailor itself to support almost any aviation mission that is asked of us, and this troop lift was no different.”
While the mission was the priority over the three days it took to bring the mix of military members to Camp Buehring, it didn’t stop the Marines and sailors of the MEU from continuing their sustainment training. As the Marine helicopters flew overhead ferrying troops from the remote camp in Iraq, Marines and sailors from the MEU continued to work on live-fire exercises, convoy training, medical training and further refining desert combat skills, according to Stilwell.
“We knew this mission was important, and we knew these airmen and soldiers were in need of a lift, so we had to rearrange some of our planned training,” said Stilwell. “But, ultimately, this will not interfere with our original intentions of getting plenty of quality training during our stay at Camp Buehring.”
The 22nd MEU (SOC) is currently on a scheduled deployment that began July 31, 2007 when the unit left Camp Lejeune, N.C., aboard the ships of the Kearsarge Strike Group. Since deploying, the unit has made the transatlantic voyage, supporting several community relations projects in different ports throughout the Mediterranean. Recently, the Marines and sailors of the MEU supported the offload of humanitarian supplies destined for local schools, an orphanage and an AIDS clinic in Djibouti, Africa.
Upon completion of the training in Kuwait, the Marines and sailors of the MEU are scheduled to rejoin Kearsarge Strike Group and continue Maritime Security Operations (MSO).
The 22nd MEU(SOC) consists of its 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. For more information about the 22nd MEU(SOC), visit the website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.