MARINE CORPS AIR BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit’s intelligence section will complete integration training with intelligence Marines from its future support elements at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., June 15, 2013, in preparation for their deployment early next year.
Approximately 30 Marines from the MEU’s battalion landing team (1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment), air combat element (Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263), and a detachment from 2nd Intelligence Battalion participated in the weeklong interoperability exercise, which began June 9 when the Marines set up expeditionary training sites on the base parade field and at Lejeune’s Stone Bay training area.
“It is the first opportunity for the MEU intelligence section and its reinforcements to train as a team, and is in essence a dress rehearsal for the intelligence enterprise prior to the beginning of the formal predeployment training cycle,” said Maj. James Allen, 22nd MEU intelligence officer and native of Lancaster, Calif.
According to Allen, the exercise is intended to teach the different intelligence sections how to work together to efficiently perform tasks they might receive during the upcoming deployment as a single intelligence element.
“We will all find ourselves working together again when the MEU composites and deploys, so this is our first chance to gel together as a section,” said Allen.
Beyond learning to integrate with each other, the Marines also received a brief on shipboard intelligence operations and capabilities from the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group intelligence officer, Lt. Cmdr. Travis Bode, a native of Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Much of the rest of the exercise was more hands-on and consisted of trial and error for the Marines. For many of them, this exercise was their first taste of the MEU’s fast pace. Whereas the typical intelligence operations cycle is 24 hours long, the MEU’s is only six.
Learning to be constantly aware of correspondence, alerts and information traffic in the rapid environment of MEU operations was key to their training. With a workflow four times faster than most of them were used to, letting a report or request go unread for 45 minutes was a serious issue.
“Because we were working on the MEU’s operations cycle, I think the MEU SMAT prepared us time-wise,” said Pfc. Erik Gonzalez, 2nd Intelligence Battalion intelligence analyst and native of Zion, Ill., referring to the new MEU structures, models, approaches and techniques course his detachment recently completed for its attachment to the MEU. “The hardest part is getting used to the constant crunch, but that course really prepared us for this time-critical environment.”
This exercise was also the first time working with other intelligence specialties for several of the Marines.
“It’s a good way for us all to be able to integrate,” said Lance Cpl. Kyle Langlois, VMM-263 intelligence analyst and native of Hudson Falls, N.Y. “At the squadron level, we don’t have any of the other intelligence disciplines, like topographic analysts. Now, I can see what they can provide to me to provide to my pilots. I’ll still know what exactly I can offer to the squadron. Adversely, I know what the pilots want from their intel, which is probably very different from what the Marines on the ground care about.”
According to Allen, that customer-service mentality is at the core of intelligence operations.
“Intelligence is not a self-licking ice cream cone, and we're only as good as our ability to anticipate our customer's operational requirements and be ready with the answer even as they approach us with the question,” said Allen. “I'm confident that with this training and the stellar mentorship the Special Operations Training Group staff is providing, we will be well postured to stay ‘left of the boom’ and provide optimal support to the MEU commander and staff.”
Aside from gathering and analyzing data, and producing intelligence briefs and products, the intelligence section also employed ground sensor platoon Marines in their data collecting. These Marines were tasked with planting and camouflaging several seismic, acoustic and photographic sensors, which relayed data back to the Marines from around the training area.
“We are the eyes and ears of the battlefield without actually having to be on the field,” said Cpl. Tim Thompson, 22nd MEU GSP team leader and native of Valdosta, Ga. “Once we put out our sensors, we don’t need bodies out there for surveillance.”
The exercise also included logistics and communications support from approximately 40 Marines, including the MEU’s communications section, which operated primarily from the parade field site and offered a couple Marines for technical support at the Stone Bay site.
“We provide data and network services for the exercise,” said Sgt. Jacob Sheffield, 22nd MEU data network specialist and native of Thomasville, Ga. “They can’t do their job without us.”
Despite the intelligence-centric nature of the exercise, it served as training for the communications Marines as well.
“This experience allows us to build on our foundations and also work on our teamwork, even within our own section,” said Sheffield. “It also teaches us what the intelligence section’s requirements and needs are so we know what to expect in the future.”