News: Special Operations Training Group: Readying the 26th MEU for what may come
Story by Cpl. Michael Lockett
USS KEARSARGE, at sea - The concept of the Marine expeditionary unit is not a new one. It’s the smallest iteration of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, a unit with air, ground, and logistics assets all subordinated to a command element. It streamlines efficiency, creating strength and effectiveness out of proportion with the size of the unit on paper and giving the unit a huge range of mission capabilities. But who trains them to do that – to work together – to accomplish that mission set?
In this case, it’s the Special Operations Training Group, usually referred to as SOTG. SOTG was founded in the early 1980s to train MEUs for deployment, though the group focused more on the MEU’s special operations capabilities at its inception. Since then, SOTG has become the on-scene trainers and evaluators for the MEU’s as they prepare for their possible missions of mayhem and mercy.
“We are tasked with providing training, evaluation and mentoring for the MEU from composite to certification and deployment,” said Col. Eric Steidl, SOTG officer-in-charge, from Denver, Colo. SOTG oversees the initial part of pre-deployment in the capacity of teaching the groups involved to carry out their missions, be it a mechanized assault or a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation.
“We’re not coming here to say ‘you’re wrong – you’re jacked up.’ We’re here to help you guys get ready to get out the door,” said Maj. Dan Murphy, operations officer for SOTG, from Sparta, N.J. Members of SOTG take their years of experience in these operations and apply them to readying the 26th MEU for whatever the world dishes out during their upcoming deployment.
During the later exercises of the pre-deployment training program, SOTG transitions to an evaluation role, creating and managing the training environments that the 26th MEU and the ships of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group are currently operating in.
“We control the exercise; then, we assess and evaluate the MEU,” said Murphy.
The 26th MEU will be evaluated on its final exercise, the Composite Training Unit Exercise, based on its ability to smoothly carry out its mission essential tasks, before SOTG submits its recommendation to II Marine Expeditionary Force. II MEF, in turn, submits its recommendation to Marine Forces Command, who ultimately signs off on the deployment.
The long at-sea exercise serves another purpose for the 26th MEU, which is to integrate with the sailors and ships of the Kearsarge ARG and Amphibious Squadron 4. The Marines and sailors of the 26th MEU are spread across three ships, the USS Kearsarge, USS San Antonio and USS Carter Hall, for the duration of the deployment. Smoothly meshing with their Navy counterparts is essential for the Marines of the 26th MEU.
“Things that affect the blue side will affect the green side, and things that affect the green side will affect the blue side,” said Steidl.
The 26th MEU is currently completing the final phase of a six-month pre-deployment training program, preparing for this year’s deployment. The MEU is a task-organized, scalable MAGTF, serving as an expeditionary crisis response force operating from the sea, and capable of conducting amphibious operations across the full range of military operations.