24th MEU regroups, looks to new members to excel

22 Jul 2003 | Cpl. Jeff Sisto

Many transitions have already occurred since Marines and Sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned from their nine-month deployment in May. On June 27, a month after they returned to the states, the MEU relinquished its Special Operations Capable designation and ready Amphibious Ready Group status. Battalion Landing Team 2nd Bn, 2nd Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, and MEU Service Support Group 24 all returned to their parent commands, leaving the MEU's Command Element to begin preparing for their next deployment.

While members of the MEU are still enjoying post-deployment leave and routine "down time," preparations for deployment are always in motion.

Although major workup exercises are not set to start for months, the 24th MEU has already begun to send Marines to Battle Skills Testing classes, rifle ranges, High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle driving courses, and advanced Military Occupational Specialty schools. Staff members are in the beginning stages of planning the schedule for future workups and deployment exercises.

The MEU has also been busy checking Marines in and out of the unit.  Some of the new members have been eagerly awaiting their chance to officially be a part of the unit and conduct real world operations.

Lance Cpl. Jason Wukich from Pittsburgh, Pa, and Pfc. Brent Beckwith from Lake, Miss., both administration clerks, checked into the MEU in March but remained working with their previous command's administration section. From there, they had an initial glimpse of what it might be like to serve with a forward deployed unit.

"Before the MEU got back, we were working for G-1, compiling the casualty reports from Iraq," said Wukich. "That made me a little apprehensive. But once they got back I was able to see who I would be working with, and it made me want to go over on the next float. I think there are definitely some good role models as Marines in this unit."

"I'm ready to do my job in a forward-deployed, real-world environment," said Beckwith. "I'm looking forward to getting out of the office and away from the desk. I want to see new places and possibly work with other armed services."

There were other Marines that were confronted with the possibility of joining the MEU before they even returned from the deployment. When an advance party returned to Camp Lejeune in March, no sooner had they unpacked when the MEU got the call to go into Iraq. The same advance party was sent back over to rejoin the unit and go ashore for combat operations.

Pfc. Eric Wilson, an embarkation clerk from Lakeland, Fla., was fresh out of his MOS school and working at II Marine Expeditionary Force while waiting to check into the 24th MEU, when he learned that the advance party had come back and was to leave again for Iraq.

"It was like a roller coaster of emotions," said Wilson. "I was happy to be checking into my first unit and learn my job. Then I was even more excited at the prospect of participating in a war."

Yet, going into Iraq was not in the cards for Wilson. Space on ship and various other factors limited the number of add-ons the MEU could take.

"It was definitely a letdown when they decided they didn't need me. But when they got back I was able to help with the offload and learn about my job right away - and that's what I want - to learn how to move a MEU on and off shore," said Wilson.

"We are now preparing for a Commanding General's inspection and getting ready to attend Haz-Mat (hazardous material) certification classes," said Wilson. "I am excited for the next one - even if we only hit one liberty port, it will all be worth it."

Other new members of the MEU understand the importance of joining a unit that has established itself as a highly effective military unit.

"I'm coming into a unit that has an outstanding reputation and I know it is my job to uphold that reputation," said Sgt. Stephen Dixon, a supply NCO from Fitzgerald, Ga. "Not only does the Marine Corps know about us, but David Letterman and Jay Leno were talking about the 24th MEU."

"I'm looking forward to doing my job the best that I can in supporting the MEU," said Dixon.

While many will remember the efforts and accomplishments of last years 24th MEU, the leadership is stressing that Marines build on that success and surpass it.

"There is no question that the bar has been set," said the 24th MEU Sergeant Major, Sgt. Maj. Donnie Barrett. "We started with real world operations in Kosovo and ended with the war in Iraq - and we did it with the most professionalism and intensity that I have ever been a part of."

"However, we have to look past last year's accomplishments and start fresh," said Barrett. "I expect all the Marines in this unit to know their jobs inside and out, but also to remember the basics that they were taught in boot camp. If they do that, they will do great things in a real world contingency."

Capt. Thomas Dunn, Assistant Intelligence Officer, from Rhinelander, WI, is preparing by feeding off the knowledge that the intelligence section gained from the last deployment.

"The outgoing staff has been instrumental in prepping me for what is to be expected on the upcoming float," said Dunn. "That will contribute greatly to developing a tight knit group of Marines, both in our section alone, and throughout the Command Element. Trust and communication will allow us to be ready for anything we may encounter out there."

"I'm looking forward to when things are clicking," said Dunn. "All our training will ensure that the command, ground force, service support, and aviation element are all in sync."

The most influential new member of the 24th MEU is Col. Ron Johnson, the new Commanding Officer.  During his last billet, Col. Johnson served as the operations officer for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade -- Task Force Tarawa -- which fought in Iraq. He will be drawing on those experiences as well as those of returning MEU Marines during the next deployment.

"This is an excellent opportunity for us to take a good look at where we are and where we want to go," said Johnson. "We'll be drawing on a lot of the lessons learned during the unit's last deployment and I'm looking forward to building on the tremendous successes these Marines and Sailors achieved while overseas, especially during Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Col. Johnson also stresses family values and is intent on making sure Marines are spending time with their families before the busy pre-deployment workup schedule begins.

"We want to take the time now to ensure our personnel enjoy some quality time with their loved ones," he said. "They worked incredibly hard last year and they deserve time at home now."

For now, Marines of the 24th MEU will balance spending time with their families and preparing for the next deployment. The new members will play a critical role in that preparation as well as adjusting to working with their new CO and with each other.

"There will definitely be a bonding period between us," said Barrett. "But we are already learning about the new CO, and he is learning about us. He expects great things, and I intend on ensuring we give him great things."