24th MEU returns home after extended deployment

28 May 2003 | Sgt. Zachary A. Bathon

After being extended twice and participating in exercises and operations in places ranging from the snow-capped mountains of Kosovo, the jungles of Kenya and the deserts of East Africa and Iraq, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) finally returned home to North Carolina Memorial Day May 26, wrapping up a nine-month deployment that will surely be talked about for years to come

After activating on January 27, 2002 and completing a rigorous Predeployment Training Program, the 24th MEU set sail from Camp Lejeune on a routine six-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea as the Landing Force for U.S. Sixth Fleet.

But as the last Landing Craft Utilities (LCUs) and Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCACs) came ashore on Memorial Day, the Marines who got off that their deployment was very far from a routine "Med Cruise" sending the majority of the time in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility and having played significant roles in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

The first thing up for the MEU after crossing the Atlantic was Operation Dynamic Response 2002 in Kosovo. During this operation, the 24th MEU teamed up with soldiers from the German Army to work in the Multi-National Brigade South Area of Operations.

During their time there, the MEU conducted border patrols apprehending more than 30 suspects. They also worked with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo Police Department patrolling some of the towns in the area.  But besides patrolling, the MEU also conducted several civil affairs projects there, including providing medical and dental care for villages in the southern region of Kosovo. The MEU also used its Aviation Combat Element and Combat Service Support Element to install sections of pipe into a mountainside that allowed a local village to have running water for the first time ever.

Some other highlights from Kosovo include a sporting competition featuring the Americans and Germans who challenged each other to a soccer match and basketball game. The MEU was victorious in both. Marines from the MSSG also competed against Swiss counterparts in shooting competition. They were also victorious.

At the same time the MEU was in Kosovo, Marines from the MEU's Harrier Detachment participated in a "Dirt Det" in Rota, Spain and Decimomannu, Italy training with their Spanish and Italian counterparts.

After wrapping up operations in Kosovo in October, the MEU headed back the ships of the USS Nassau Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and immediately made their way through the Suez Canal into the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility. They would remain there the duration of the deployment.

First up for the MEU in their new AOR was exercise Image Nautilus 2003 in Djibouti. During this exercise the MEU honed its combined-arms capabilities by conducting many day and night live-fire exercises. The MEU also conducted another civil affairs project in which the Marines built furniture for a local schoolhouse and provided medical and dental care for some of the local residents. This time in Djibouti also afforded the Marines the opportunity to get acclimated to the harsh desert environment, which they would grow accustomed to by the end of the deployment.

Following their exercise in the Djibouti, the MEU conducted a Split ARG Operation in the month of December, with the USS Austin separating and heading to Kenya, where the MEU conducted Exercise Edged Mallet 2003.

Edged Mallet 2003 was a combined exercise in which soldiers from the Kenyan Army cross-trained with Marines from Golf Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn. 2nd Marines. Some of the highlights include live-fire shoots in which the two countries got the fire each other's weapons and a combined airfield seizure that solidified the relationship built between the two countrie's forces.

Marines from MEU Service Support Group 24 also conducted humanitarian assistance operations for local residents.

Following their work in Kenya, the USS Austin rejoined the USS Nassau and USS Tortuga in preparation for their next event.

During this time, Marines aboard the USS Tortuga and USS Austin took a few days off to enjoy some liberty in the Seychelles while the USS Nassau spent a few days in Bahrain.

After a few days of rest the MEU conducted another combined arms exercise, Iron Magic 2003 in Another Arabia Gulf Country. Again the MEU focused on combined arms operations conducting more day and night live-fire exercises. They also conducted a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise along with a helicopter assault course.

Following the exercise there, the MEU loaded back onto its ships and headed to Bahrain for a few more days of liberty.

During this time, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Alford L. McMichael visited the Marines aboard the USS Nassau. During his visit the Commandant and sergeant major addressed the MEU and answered questions. He also went around and personally thanked the Marines for their service.

The MEU then spent the rest of the month aboard ship in and around the Arabian Gulf. During this time, the Marines hosted several small unit leadership classes and conducted many live-fire shoots on the ships flight deck.

Then, just as the MEU was about to begin its journey home, word came down that the deployment had been extended for a second time, this time indefinitely and they were going ashore in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During their time in Iraq, the MEU played a significant role in securing Route 7, a major supply road running from Southern Iraq all the way to Baghdad. They also conducted vehicle checkpoints and successfully completed several raids in which the Marines captured large amounts of weapons and ammunition. Some other highlights from Iraq include the recovery of a body of a fallen Marine from Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 and the destruction of all Ba'ath Party Regime symbols in the village of Qalat Sukar.

During Iraqi Freedom the MEU'S Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 was detached from the MEU and reattached to their parent command Marine Air Group 29. During their time in Iraq the ACE provided assault support and played a key role in the movement of troops and supplies.

As Baghdad fell and the MEU wrapped up operations in its Area of Responsibility the MEU began to move back to its ships once again.

During this time, the MEU conducted its end of deployment wash down at Camp Patriot, Kuwait and began its long awaited journey home.

Heading back through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean Sea and back across the Atlantic the MEU is finally home with the satisfaction of a successful deployment that took them halfway around the world and saw them participate in numerous exercises, and several real-world operations.