CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY -- When the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) headed out to a remote desert location to conduct live fire exercises, self-sustainment became its biggest challenge. Yet, the MEU Service Support Group met that challenge and surpassed the difficult expectations of providing the MEU with water, fuel, ammunition, and transportation.
In an exercise involving two beach landing sites, several base camps, multiple live fire ranges, secluded security checkpoints, and distant observation posts spread out over rugged desert terrain, this was not an easy task.
"We successfully moved the entire MEU 34 miles inland from the beach and have been busy supporting them ever since," said Capt. John Fleming, Transportation Support Detachment Officer, MSSG-24.
Once the MEU reached their base camps, the MSSG went to work making the parched earth a little more hospitable. Huge berms were made, providing a perimeter of security as well as shelter from strong winds. Sanitation stations were established as engineers began making outdoor toilets. Tents were put up for command posts and a makeshift garage was erected for vehicle maintenance and repairs. Water bulls were put in place and MRE pallets were distributed.
"Everything you see here has been done by the 24th MEU," said Capt. Denise Garcia, Operations Officer, MSSG 24. "We supply and transport our own fuel and water. Out here, there is no Brown and Root (construction firm)."
That sentiment is shared by most of the MSSG, who pride themselves on their ability to support the entire MEU, especially in harsh conditions.
"Each day we load up and go from check point to check point dropping off supplies and personnel," said Lance Cpl. George Handy, motor transportation operator and Jackson, Miss. native.
"We have to learn how to maneuver through the sand and ruts and how to maintain enough displacement to see through the dust. But we are all experienced drivers." said Handy.
"So far, we have put 4,000 miles on the trucks in rough terrain," added Fleming. "In most cases, it is a two-hour drive to each checkpoint."
Because of this, the maintenance section has remained busy during the exercise.
"So far, we have repaired an Assault Amphibian Vehicle engine, a few blown tires, a cracked flywheel on a HUMVEE, and dealt with a lot of preventative maintenance type problems," said Cpl. Jason Lelle, an auto mechanic from Long Island, N.Y.
"The terrain definitely plays a big part in some of the problems we see. Sand gets in the air filters and we have to change it out frequently," said Lelle.
One of the biggest accomplishments the MSSG has achieved is the successful use of its Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit. Without it, the MEU's survival would be impossible and its self sustainment capabilities nonexistent.
Simply put, the ROWPU is a portable device designed to take regular seawater, send it through a series of hoses, bladders and tanks, and produce clean drinking water out the other side. Hygiene Equipment Specialists monitor the chemical levels and administer the proper treatment of the water as it is being purified.
"We test the water every half hour for Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and chlorine levels," said Cpl. Jacob Laroche, hygiene equipment operator, from Lemonster Mass. "Once it is in the last tank, we test it every hour for purification until it is shipped."
As soon as the water is purified, it is then pumped into trucks that transport it to all of the camps and posts where Marines are operating .
"It's a continuous cycle," said Capt. Eric Post, Engineer Officer, MSSG 24. "We make two water runs a day out to the ROWPU site and then bring it out to all the ranges and base camps."
The statistics are staggering.
According to Cpl. Robert Rossi, a Hygiene Equipment specialist, from Brooklyn, N.Y. "five men make 24,000 gallons of purified drinking water a day."
As a result, Marines have remained well hydrated during the exercise.
"So far, there have been no heat casualties," said Chief Petty Officer Timothy Hanley, Chief Corpsman, MSSG 24, from Atlanta, Ga. "Marines have enough water to keep themselves well hydrated and healthy."
The combined efforts of the MSSG have afforded the 24th MEU (SOC) with the unique ability to fully support itself in any environment and solidified their role in expeditionary warfare.