U.S. Marine Expeditionary Unit Provides 'In Extremis' Support

By Kennedy, Harold | National Defense, October 2001 | Go to article overview

U.S. Marine Expeditionary Unit Provides 'In Extremis' Support


Kennedy, Harold, National Defense


Poised to cruise into the Mediterranean Sea in early October is the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), one of handful of U.S. military organizations designed to permit the United Stares to intervene in almost any international crisis within as few as six hours after notification.

For the next six months, the 26th MEU--pronounced "me-you"--will be the "911 force" on call in an 82-nation area surrounding the Mediterranean, said the unit's commander, Col. Andrew P Frick.

The deployment is routine. A MEU is almost always on patrol in the Mediterranean.

While deployed, Frick said in an interview at Camp Lejeune, N.C., a MEU has to be ready to handle a wide variety missions in a huge, volatile region stretching from the eastern Mediterranean, down the west coast of Africa.

The 2,200 men and women of the 26th--fresh from a grueling 26-week training program-are "well prepared for a full range of operations," he said.

In all, Frick explained, the Marine Corps has seven MEUs, three on each U.S. coast and one on the Japanese island of Okinawa. With rotating deployments, the East Coast MEUs maintain an almost-constant presence in the Mediterranean, he said, while the others do the same in the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans.

During its tour, the 26th will sail from port to port on a three-ship U.S. Navy Amphibious Ready Group. This ARG, as it is called, includes an amphibious assault ship, USS Bataan (LHD-5), and two transports, USS Shreveport (LPD-12) and USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41). Such ships are designed to lay off of a troubled area of the world and insert combat forces ashore by helicopters, amphibious assault vehicles, conventional landing vessels and hydrofoils known as landing craft air cushion, or LCACs.

While deployed, the MEU will participate in half a dozen exercises with forces from friendly nations, while remaining prepared for real-life operations. These can run the gamut, including humanitarian assistance in natural disasters, embassy evacuations, hostage rescues, recovery of downed pilots from hostile territory, peacekeeping and traditional combat, said Maj. Gen. John E Goodman, commanding general of the 26th's parent organization, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, or MEB. During its current deployment, the 26th MEU is likely to be asked to perform one or more of these missions, Goodman said.

"In every six-month deployment that I have had anything to do with, it has happened, in one way or another," he said.

During one deployment in 1999, for example, the 26th provided security for Kosovar refugees in Albania, then bombed military targets in Yugoslavia, and served as the first U.S. peacekeeping unit to enter Kosovo. Just weeks later, it supplied humanitarian assistance to earthquake victims in Turkey.

"We are the rip of the spear, the first to go in," Frick said. If the MEU needs reinforcements, he explained, the 2nd MEB can provide them with relative speed. (See related story.)

"These units are able to provide 'in extremis' capability to U.S. military commanders and ambassadors around the world," said Maj. Gen. Martin R. Berndt, commanding general of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, headquartered at Camp Lejeune.

A MEU consists of a reinforced battalion of fully equipped ground-combat troops, a mixed squadron of helicopters and fighters, and a support element with 15 days of supplies for operations ashore. (See related story) During the current cruise, the 26th includes:

* The 3rd Battalion Landing Team of the 6th Marine Regiment, a reinforced infantry battalion with light-armored vehicles, artillery and amphibious-assault vehicles.

* HMM-365 (Reinforced), a composite squadron of CH-53E Super Stallion, Ch-46E Sea Knight, AH-1W Cobras and UH-1N Huey helicopters and AV-8B+ Harrier fighters, capable of vertical takeoffs and landings.

* MEU Service Support Group 26, which provides the unit's medical, dental, maintenance, communications, engineering and other technical expertise. …

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