CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Marines and Sailors lined the beach at sunrise, waiting to board landing craft for transport to ships anchored offshore. For many, it was an introduction to shipboard life and the unique challenges involved in serving with an embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit.
To the old hands, it was the first in a string of shipboard exercises designed to improve coordination with Navy, or "blue-side" counterparts.
It is known as "PMINT," which stands for Ambibious Squadron-MEU integration exercise, and it's a clear sign that things are beginning to move at high speeds in the 24th MEU's predeployment workup.
The unit will deploy this summer on ships of the USS Nassau Amphibious Ready Group, ostensibly on a routine "float." While overseas, however, the MEU will no doubt be impacted by international events in the post September 11th world.
"Morale is higher than usual," said SSgt Matthew McCandrew, 24th MEU motor transport chief. "Everyone knows we might be involved in something on this deployment."
McCandrew, of Nashville, Ill. has worked extensively with the Marine Corp's newest tactical vehicle, a seven-ton truck known as the Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement, or MTVR, which will make its maiden deployment with the 24th MEU this summer.
Other changes distinguish the MEU's upcoming float. Drawing on lessons learned from the 26th MEU's recent operations in Afghanistan, the 24th has doubled the number of CH-53E "Super Stallion" helicopters it is bringing. The 53s provide greater lift and range than the Marine Corps' traditional workhorse aircraft, the CH-46 "Sea Knight."
The unit will also deploy with AV-8B "Harrier" attack aircraft and more AH-1W "Super Cobra" attack helicopters than usual.
"We're plussing up on our ability to provide close air support," said GySgt Stephen Farrell, the MEU's fire support chief, of Shenandoah, Iowa.
If things seem to have changed as a result of operations in Afghanistan, 24th MEU Commanding Officer Richard Mills provides a larger context.
"The things that happened on the ground in Afghanistan were a validation of the tactics, techniques, and procedures we've been following for years," said Mills, a native of Huntington, NY.
"One thing that's changed, however, is the ability of our junior Marines to understand and work with greater levels of technology. Marines now are much more comfortable with technology than they used to be years ago," he said.
Overall, the 24th MEU is well poised to put that knowledge to good use, regardless of where it finds itself during the upcoming deployment, and PMINT provided an effective first step in building critical working relationships with the unit's Navy partners.