USS KEARSARGE, At Sea - The Supporting Arms Coordination Exercise was the culminating event of the Composite Training Unit Exercise, marking the end of the pre-deployment training program for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The exercise provided supporting fire for a simulated amphibious assault on a target in Camp Lejeune, N.C., Feb. 16, 2013.
“It’s designed to evaluate Amphibious Squadron 4 and the 26th MEU fire support section and the ability to integrate fire support for an amphibious landing,” said Capt. Albert Silva, 26th MEU targeting information officer from Plano, Texas.
Battalion Landing Team 3/2, the ground combat element of the 26th MEU, conducted beach landings with amphibious assault vehicles and deployed from landing craft, air cushions assigned to PHIBRON 4.
“It’s practicing command and control from the sea to support the landing forces as they get ashore,” said Silva. Assets at the MEU’s disposal for this operation included air assets from the MEU’s aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 266 (Reinforced). These air assets include AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft, and UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters. Ground and sea assets included 81mm and 120mm mortars from BLT 3/2, and the missiles and guns of the USS Anzio.
“SACEX gave us the opportunity to integrate MEU and PHIBRON planning in order to coordinate naval surface fire support with the USS Anzio, ensuring accurate placement of rounds downrange,” said Lt. Chelsea Creekmuir, operations officer for PHIBRON 4 from Oakley, Kansas. “We rarely get the opportunity to work with an Aegis ship in this capacity; we now know we can successfully engage targets on call.”
“In a MEU, fire support is a real blue-green effort. It requires integration with the ship and the PHIBRON staff to make sure our fire support is executed properly,” said Silva.
The MEU can utilize anything in the area of operations during a beach landing, said Silva. Learning to coordinate those assets early on is crucial to efficiently running operations when the platforms and units providing fire support for an amphibious landing or other operation may not be from the unit or even from the United States.
“In the event of an amphibious assault, we would leverage any other assets in the area and integrate them in our scheme of maneuver,” said Silva.
During the SACEX, the training scenario’s objective was to neutralize anti-ship cruise missiles capable of hitting allied warships landing troops, and to destroy anti-air weaponry in the area of the target beach, to allow friendly aircraft to operate unhindered.
The training from this exercise extends to all of the MEU’s operations. “Any mission the MEU is tasked with requires a fire support concept,” said Silva. “When we’ve sent a force ashore, it’s important to be able to command and control from afloat.”
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.