MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy Sailors with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) are set to conduct the ARG/MEU Exercise (ARG/MEU Ex) in preparation for their upcoming deployment.
The exercise, scheduled to run off the East Coast through mid-November, is the third major exercise in the MEU’s six-month pre-deployment training program, which began in July.
Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) will observe and evaluate the MEU during ARG/MEU Ex on the specific missions that every MEU must be able to accomplish, such as amphibious raids; visit, board, search and seizures; noncombatant evacuation operations and other mission essential tasks.
The MEU’s pre-deployment training program uses a building block approach to take the MEU’s nearly 2,500 Marines and Sailors and form a balanced, expeditionary force able to respond to crises around the world at a moment’s notice.
It starts with small-unit exercises: first platoon- and company-level training, then battalion- and squadron-level training before bringing the elements of the MEU together to conduct larger exercises.
The first large-scale evolution the Marines and Sailors completed was the MEU’s Realistic Urban Training (RUT) exercise at Fort Pickett, Va., and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. From Aug. 23 to Sept. 13, the MEU practiced planning and executing land and sea missions, including several day and night raids, within six hours of receiving the orders.
RUT was the MEU’s first opportunity to coordinate and integrate its major subordinate elements in the condensed, six-hour planning cycle used by MEUs. This six-hour planning cycle is one of the major capabilities that the MEU provides, and gives the MEU the agility to respond quickly when called upon.
Following RUT, the MEU’s Marines and Sailors adjusted to ship life aboard the USS Bataan (LHD 5), USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) and USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) in late September during the PHIBRON/MEU Integration Training (PMINT) exercise off the East Coast. The three ships constitute the Bataan ARG and will be home to the MEU’s Marines and Sailors for the deployment.
With confined living spaces, a three-dimensional labyrinth to navigate, new and adjusted work objectives, and new military terminology to learn, ship life can seem alien and take some getting used to for many Marines, said Maj. Steve Gaugler, 22nd MEU future operations officer and native of Allentown, Pa.
“We’re learning a lot of basic shipboard operations, to include loading the ship, living aboard the ship and conducting flight operations on the ship,” said Gaugler.
PMINT enabled the MEU to ease into regular shipboard operations, such as fire drills, man overboard drills and underway replenishment. The MEU also continued planning and executing missions, now under shipboard conditions.
“PMINT is really a chance to implement and refine our operations,” said Gaugler. “The next time we come out here, we’ll be past the crawl/walk phase; we’ll be hitting the ground running.”
The final days of PMINT included a sea- and shore-based fire support coordination exercise. The exercise featured artillery, mortar and close-air support elements going ashore, receiving orders from the ship and working in concert to eliminate simulated targets at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. More than 200 Marines and Sailors worked together to practice controlling the supporting fires and passing that control between ship- and shore-based coordination centers.
While wrapping up PMINT and conducting the fire support coordination exercise, the MEU simultaneously conducted a long-range embassy reinforcement exercise from North Carolina to New Mexico. MV-22 Ospreys with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), the MEU’s aviation combat element, flew more than 1,300 nautical miles from Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., to air drop force reconnaissance Marines at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., to simulate inserting Marines to reinforce a notional embassy. This was the furthest tactical insertion the Marine Corps has done with Ospreys.
“We’ve done transatlantic and transpacific flights where we’ve flown the MV-22 for long distances,” explained Lt. Col. Sam Schoolfield, squadron commanding officer and native of Waxahachie, Texas. “But we’ve never flown from a base to a 1,300-mile target and then returned back to base.”
The Ospreys were refueled by U.S. Air Force MC-130J Commando II aircraft during the flight.
“One of our capabilities with the V-22 is its long reach,” said Col. William Dunn, 22nd MEU commanding officer and native of Dumfries, Va. “The training allowed us to stress to our pilots the ability to have confidence in their airplanes to fly these long-range raids.
“This opportunity is not just for the MEU, this is a great opportunity and training event for the Marine Corps,” added Dunn. “The Osprey aircraft gives us a resource to insert either a large conventional force or a smaller force reconnaissance or even a special operations force anywhere in the world in a short amount of time.”
The 22nd MEU has continued to complete training requirements between PMINT and ARG/MEU Ex, such as staff training via situational training (STX) exercises, physical conditioning and gas mask training.
“I am very confident in the abilities of the 22nd MEU with their gas masks and the counter measures against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear(CBRN) attacks,” said Cpl. Joseph Incarnato, 22nd MEU CBRN defense noncommissioned officer-in-charge and native of Mastic, N.Y.
The STXs allowed the command element and subordinate element staffs to refine their ability to plan and execute within the six-hour cycle. During STXs, the MEU staff plans all of the intricate details of a notional mission.
All of these building blocks will come together during the MEU’s Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) at sea in December.
During COMPTUEX, SOTG will assess the mission planning and execution learned and conducted during RUT, PMINT and ARG/MEU Ex to evaluate and certify the MEU in its 12 mission essential tasks for deployment.
The MEU is scheduled to deploy in early 2014 to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force capable of conducting amphibious missions across the full range of military operations.