PRIZREN, Kosovo -- As darkness began to set on the evening of Sept. 19, most of the people aboard Camp Able Sentry in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia were winding down and preparing to call it a day.
But this wasn't the case for Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). Their night was just beginning. They were moving in convoys to various camps throughout the southern and eastern regions of Kosovo in support of Operation Dynamic Response 2002.
Dynamic Response is a regularly scheduled operational rehearsal conducted by Kosovo Forces to practice the use of the Strategic Reserve Force in the Balkans. The rehearsal is an important proof of NATO's ability to reinforce, on short notice, those forces already present with so-called "Over the Horizon Forces."
For the 24th MEU (SOC), arriving in Kosovo was a perfect opportunity for the MEU's embark section to put important skills to work.
In 48 hours the embark section along with Marines from USS Nassau Amphibious Ready Group Combat Cargo and the Port Operations Group moved the majority of the MEU's personnel and vehicles from Thessolaniki, Greece to Camp Able Sentry. The movement included High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, seven-ton trucks, Intermediate Fast Attack Vehicles, Joint Task Force Enabler vehicles, along with pieces of heavy equipment, and storage containers.
From there, the Marines moved to their respective areas of operation and began working with other members of the Kosovo Force's Multi-National Brigade South.
"We offloaded three ships onto two piers using everything we are capable of using," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Henry, embark chief and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. native. "We were using cranes, Landing Craft Utilities (LCU) and ramps to move things from the ship to a rail yard near the port."
From the rail yard, the MEU was able to move a total of 200 vehicles on four trains smoothly and efficiently through the night. "The reason we chose to use the rail yard was because it was a safe and time efficient way to move our vehicles through a foreign country during a time of peace without upsetting the local civilians," said Henry.
One key element that made the use of trains go smoothly was the Greek civilians who locked and braced the vehicles on the trains after the Marines drove them on. "The Greeks were very professional," said Henry. "They worked hard and fast and were key in making everything go smoothly."
The MEU also managed to move 1,900 troops off the ships and onto 43 buses in less than six hours.
During the troop movement vehicle operators had to move fast, driving their vehicles off the ships and positioning them at the rail yard. Then they had to go back to the ships, grab their gear and embark onto the buses for the movement.
"This movement shows we were organized," said Henry. "This was our first evolution in a foreign nation and all of our training during the workups seems to have paid off."
The MEU is now set up in more than eight different locations. The MEU's command element is located at Prizren. The Aviation Combat Element is located at Camp Bondsteel, while the majority of the MEU Service Support Group is located at Camp Casablanca. The Battalion Landing Team is spread out over various locations that include Prizren Airfield, Dragas, Globo Hill, Brod, and Camp Scorpion.
With the movement of vehicles, gear and troops out the way, the Marines had time to begin focusing on the mission at hand and for a few Marines to get some much desired real-world experience. For many it was their first time being involved in a real-world operation and it offered a chance to see what it is like in different parts of the world.
"We came in and it is astonishing to see the conditions of things here," said Cpl. Dustin Yeager, Ammunition Technician, MEU Service Support Group 24 and Little Rock, Ms. native. "It is an experience to see how other people live, but I like being in the field and this is the reason I joined the Marine Corps."
Another highlight of the beginning of Dynamic Response, was a flag raising ceremony that took place at Globo Hill, Kosovo between Marines from Company G, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines and members of the Austrian Army.
During the ceremony the Austrians lowed their flag as the Marines raised the American Flag, signifying a change of the guard in that area of operation.
With all the Marines now in place, the 24th MEU (SOC) is ready to carry out its peace support operations before returning to ARG shipping and preparing for its next evolution.