News: Crisis response force ready to set sail
Story by Cpl. Kyle N. Runnels
CAMP LEJUNE, N.C. -The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., after completing its Composite Training Unit Exercise, the final phase of its six-month pre-deployment training exercise, Feb. 20, 2013.
“The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group has come together and performed all of the required missions it will encounter on deployment,” said Cmdr. Neil A. Koprowski, commanding officer of the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio. “COMPTUEX is designed to flex all of the mission areas that the ship and embarked MEU elements will employ during deployment, both independently and coordinated between the ARG and MEU.”
While the Marines and sailors of the 26th MEU were underway aboard the ships making up the ARG, the USS Kearsarge; USS Carter Hall; and USS San Antonio, their focus was to learn how to conduct the operations they have trained for, from the sea.
“The certification exercise was designed to test the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and its ability to execute the 12 mission essential tasks that make up our mission essential task list,” said Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, 26th MEU commanding officer and Jarrettsville, Md., native. “All those missions that the combatant commanders expect the MEU, when it deploys into theater, to be able to execute. It’s a diverse mission essential task list: humanitarian assistance, amphibious operations, raids, embassy reinforcements, noncombatant evacuations operations, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, and several more. That’s why we’re out there.”
Due to repairs needed by the USS Kearsarge before the amphibious ready group set sail, the MEU and ARG had to adapt and overcome, making up for a shortage of preparation time.
“We’ve done a lot in a very short period of time, and the Marines and sailors have done exceptionally well,” said St. Clair. “I’m very proud of them. We have executed every mission safely. Every Marine, sailor, piece of equipment and vehicle has returned to our ships with 100% accountability.”
During this exercise, both the Kearsarge ARG and the 26th MEU were being evaluated on their performance by a third party. Amphibious Squadron 4, which encompasses the ARG, was evaluated by Strike Force Training Atlantic, and the MEU by Special Operations Training Group. The Marines and sailors put in innumerable hours in carrying out operations and assessing, mentoring, and certifying the MEU.
“Our pace went from 0 mph to 100 mph,” said St. Clair. “Within 22 days, we have completed about 50 at-sea training days. All those events we needed to accomplish, we did. Learning how to be amphibious – mastering the art of amphibiosity.”
With its pre-deployment training program complete, the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit anxiously await the kickoff of their deployment to the Mediterranean and points beyond.
“Once we set sail and deploy, we’ll be the nation’s crisis response force, a sea-based expeditionary unit ready to respond to whatever the crisis may be,” said St. Clair. “The very day the combatant commander needs us – when the president needs us – with the gear and equipment we have embarked on the three ships, we will be prepared. We are a very capable, immediate response group. That’s why it’s so exciting to be a part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit – being part of that amphibious ready group.”