News: 26th MEU returns home with its head held high
Story by Cpl. Michael Lockett
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – The Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to North Carolina Nov. 1-5, 2013, marking the end to a successful eight month deployment. The Marines and sailors deployed aboard the ships of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, sailing around the world as the Nation’s crisis response force, and participating in training and theater security cooperation exercises with friendly and allied nations across oceans, continents, and hemispheres.
Marines and sailors of the unit participated in a number of exercises in countries spread across Europe and the Middle East, from the France to Kuwait, with separate parts of the MEU often training simultaneously in a number of countries. The 26th MEU took part in Exercises Agile Spirit in the Republic of Georgia, Eagle Resolve in Qatar, Eager Lion in Jordan, Sea Soldier in Oman, and Eager Falcon in Kuwait.
Work ups for the deployment began in the summer of 2012, with the first major exercise going at Ft. Pickett, Va. Battalion Landing Team 3/2 served as the 26th MEU’s ground combat element, providing the strength of the MEU’s infantry fighting force. Combat Logistics Battalion 26 increased the flexibility to support MEU operations across the world and handle some of the MEU’s more esoteric missions, including disaster relief and non-combatant evacuation operations as the MEU’s logistics combat element. Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 (Reinforced) increased the range of MEU operations via MV-22B Osprey, CH-53E Super Stallions and a variety of other assault support and attack aircraft as the aviation combat element.
The 26th MEU continued its training during the fall and winter, integrating with its aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 (Reinforced), and focusing on honing the specializations of the MEU’s different units. Different elements took part in non-lethal weapons training, raid courses for the motorized, mechanized, and helicopter raid forces, training in command and control, and moving MEU assets via helicopter lift.
On Oct. 31, the Marine Corps called upon the 26th MEU to provide assistance to the storm-wracked areas including New York, New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s disastrous romp through the coastal regions. Embarked on the USS Wasp (LHD 1), Marines and sailors flew into areas rendered inaccessible by the washed out roadways, providing assistance where the need was most dire. During their 10 days in the area, Marines leveraged aviation assets and Navy landing craft to bring relief, operating with an effectiveness that far outweighed what the size of the unit would suggest.
After returning home to Camp Lejeune, the 26th MEU took a last breath over the holidays before embarking aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), USS San Antonio (LPD 17), and USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) for their final certification exercise. Over the course of a month, the 26th MEU and its Navy counterparts aboard the ships of the Kearsarge ARG tightened their relationship to achieve full unity of the blue-green team. They worked together to achieve all the certifications necessary before the deployment, performing mock raids and operations in training areas up and down the Eastern seaboard, as well as at sea.
In early March 2013, the Marines and sailors of the 26th MEU took a last look at home, kissed their loved ones goodbye, and embarked once again, sailing east into the sunrise across the Atlantic. The ships of the ARG split up while sailing through the Mediterranean Sea and set up for individual operations, demonstrating the effectiveness of the MEU in countries from ocean to ocean.
“They epitomized the professionalism and commitment required of an expeditionary crisis response force and provided the combatant commanders a certain force in an uncertain world,” said Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, 26th MEU commanding officer and native of Jarrettsville, Md.
Marines and sailors participated in training operations in more than a dozen countries, including France, Greece, Oman, Jordan, Djibouti, Qatar, Georgia, Kuwait, and enjoying liberty in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Italy, Spain, Israel, and Cypress. MEU personnel took part in volunteer efforts in these ports, helping to paint and clean up buildings and help organizations in need of a hand.
“I am extremely proud of the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. This Navy and Marine Corps team performed magnificently throughout the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility, whether on alert to reinforce an American Embassy or participating in a theater security cooperation exercise, their tireless efforts were noteworthy as they successfully executed each mission, and were always poised to respond to the next task,” said St. Clair. “I am truly humbled to stand in their ranks.”
In the cold of late autumn, the Marines and sailors returned home, rolling out of the rising sun aboard landing craft, aircraft, and amphibious assault vehicles, returning to their long waiting families over a series of bright, clear days. The 26th MEU returned home with its head held high, its mission accomplished with effectiveness and panache. In the weeks to come, the unit will begin the process of breaking back down into its component units and returning them to their parents commands, but until then, the MEU remains ready to redeploy at a moment’s notice as the Nation’s premier crisis response force.