ABOARD USS BATAAN --
In 1917, Winston Churchill said of the U.S. Marines, "I am convinced there is no smarter, handier or more adaptable body of troops in the world... always spick and span, ready at an instant's notice for duty; the nation owes them a great debt."
After nearly six months of rigorous pre-deployment training, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit has stepped up to join the ranks of their forbearers in being "ready at an instant's notice," after completing their final Certification Exercise.
"CERTEX wraps up our pre-deployment training," said Col. Gareth F. Brandl, the commanding officer of 22nd MEU. "It's the culminating exercise for all the training that we've done up to this point, and it's an evaluation of the Marine Air Ground Task Force on how well we can do our mission essential tasks. It proves to our higher headquarters that we're ready for deployment."
During the two-week exercise, Marines from II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operation Training Group evaluated the 2,200 Marines and sailors of the MEU on their abilities to successfully execute any given mission.
"The certification process for the MEU proves that you have the ability to successfully accomplish all the required missions and demonstrate the required capabilities prior to deployment," said Col. Timothy T. Armstrong, the II MEF SOTG officer in charge.
At one time, successful completion of CERTEX ended with an addition to the MEU name.
In 1986, the 22nd MEU was the third unit to deploy with the designation "Special Operations Capable." But for its upcoming deployment this year, the unit will be deploying without SOC added to its moniker.
"Since the 22nd MEU is not deploying with a Marine Special Operations Company, we're simply going to be working toward a recommendation for a MEU certification," said Armstrong.
Every MEU is an expeditionary quick-reaction force, deployed and ready for immediate response to any crisis. However, unlike any MEU before it, the 22nd MEU will deploy with the MV-22B Osprey.
"I think it's pretty significant; history is being made," said Sgt. Maj. Octaviano Gallegos, the sergeant major of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced), and native of Las Cruces, N.M. "I'm proud to be the ACE sergeant major for the first MEU deployment with the Osprey."
With at-sea training exercises such as CERTEX, the MEU trained together as a team, not just with other Marines, but with the sailors of Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as shipmates and counterparts.
"The training aboard ship requires you to integrate as a blue-green team," said Brandl, a native of Riverdale, N.J. "Everything that we do from afloat involves our blue team. We're making missions happen with the Navy; we're building that team."
At the end of the day, every Marine and sailor received great training, said Brandl. Marines and sailors train and execute training missions to better prepare them for real-life missions - possibly in hostile environments.
"We live in a world where Marines are going to combat," said Armstrong. "We're not going to sit here and give you Mickey Mouse games. We're going to give you the best scenarios and best situations that will prepare you for combat."
During CERTEX, the unit used both land and sea-based assets to accomplish real-time missions including mechanized raids, motorized raids and helicopter-borne raids.
According to Brandl, weather conditions early in the exercise created opportunities for the MEU to showcase its all-weather capabilities and extreme flexibility. Using ground assets and Navy landing craft, the MEU executed several missions during low-visibility conditions.
The MEU also executed an embassy reinforcement operation, a simulated non-combatant evacuation operation and a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise.
The final mission the MEU executed during CERTEX flexed the long legs of the MV-22B Osprey.
The MEU was tasked to pick up a high-value individual from Florida, nearly 400 miles away, and transport that individual back to Bataan - all in one night.
By using three MV-22B Ospreys and two KC-130 Hurcules tankers, the MEU was able to fly to Camp Blanding Joint Training Center in Florida with an airborne casualty evacuation capability and an airborne quick reaction force that stayed airborne for the entire mission.
According to VMM-263(Rein) assistant operations officer, Maj. Brett Hart, a mission like this hasn't been conducted since 1991.
The 1991 mission, Operation Eastern Exit, was a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation of the American embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia. A group of CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters flew about 440 nautical miles from amphibious shipping, to the embassy to evacuate civilians.
The mission was launched from the very edge of the aircraft's operational range and required two in-flight refueling linkups, according to Hart.
Even as the CH-53Es were launching for Operation Eastern Exit, the ships were steaming at flank speed to get closer to the coast of Somalia for the aircraft to be able to make the trip back to the vessels.
"For the CH-53E's in 1991, they launched because not doing so would jeopardize lives. To perform a similar task with MV-22Bs is less risky and takes much less time because of the speed, range and payload capacity of the tiltrotor aircraft," said Hart, an Indianapolis native. "This mission for us was a good chance to stretch our legs and to showcase the capability of the MV-22B aircraft, pilots and aircrew."
One of the most significant aspects of the training raid was that the ships of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group stayed in Onslow Bay off the coast of North Carolina, said Brandl.
For the Marines of the 22nd MEU, the focus has now shifted from training, to real-world missions they may face on deployment.
This will be the first overseas deployment for some Marines, like Pfc. Patrick J. Miller, a mortarman with Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 22nd MEU.
"For this being my first deployment, I'm more excited than anything," added Miller, a native of Warren, Ohio. "I'm ready to get out of the States and see what else is out in the world."
The 22nd MEU is a scalable, multipurpose force of more than 2,200 Marines and sailors. Commanded by Col. Gareth F. Brandl, it consists of its Ground Combat Element, BLT 3/2; ACE, VMM-263 (Rein); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and its Command Element.
The 22nd MEU is scheduled to deploy this spring. For more information about the 22nd MEU, visit the unit's website at www.22meu.usmc.mil.