News: Three steps closer to deployment
Story by Cpl. Kyle N. Runnels
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Marines and sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit checked off another box as their group sail, the third major training evolution of their pre-deployment training program, came to an end, Dec. 18, 2012.
"A traditional MEU workup has three or four at-sea periods," said Maj. Richard Pitchford, a Norfolk, Va., native, and 26th MEU operations officer. "They usually do a group sail, which is all about putting the blue-green team together. It can involve specific qualifications and making sure the aviation combat element is getting its pilots their deck-landing qualifications, but it is mainly about putting Marines on ship and getting everyone working together in that environment."
The Marines and sailors of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force embarked onto three ships, the USS San Antonio (LPD 17), USS Carter Hall (LSD 50), and the USS Bataan (LHD 5) along with Amphibious Squadron 4, which serves as the command element for the three-ship Amphibious Ready Group.
"To me, this demonstrated the tremendous flexibility and capability of everyone involved," said Pitchford. "We went from operating off the coast of New York aboard the USS Wasp (LHD 1) for Hurricane Sandy relief operations to having to change gears quickly and move our schedule around based on the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) and her readiness. Everyone came together and figured everything out very quickly, resulting in very good training."
It was important for the Marines of the 26th MEU to learn how to efficiently operate on ship, and it was critical to take what they learned and figure out how to fix and plan ahead to deal with any potential problems.
"After this experience, I am more comfortable with being on ship for so long, and I think I will be fine on this deployment," said Lance Cpl. Terryon D. Witcher, an Orlando native and administrative specialist with Combat Logistics Battalion 26, 26th MEU. He said the sailors he has been working with have been more than helpful, making the transition to ship life much easier.
This is going to be Witcher's first deployment, and this exercise has given him insight on what he can expect while underway. He said his main job entailed taking accountability of Marines on ship. He said from this experience, he has learned what kind of challenges he may face and now plans on working on preventative measures to make things run smoother in the future.
Aside from ship orientation, the Marines and sailors conducted multiple exercises in conjunction with the ships they embarked upon, including a variety of raids and a mass casualty exercise. On top of those, pilots from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 Reinforced were getting their deck-landing qualifications.
The 26th MEU operates continuously across the globe, providing the president and unified combatant commanders with a forward-deployed, sea-based quick reaction force. The MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response, and limited contingency operations. The 26th MEU is slated to deploy in 2013.