MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- On the morning of October 20, 2000, more than two thousand Marines and Sailors formed on the "PT" field just outside of the II Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters before they kicked off a motivational run, which signified the start of a rigorous predeployment training schedule for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24th MEU).
The saying goes - "Hit the ground running." That's exactly what happened for the 24th MEU.
Upon activation, the MEU went from a staff of about 200 to approximately 2,200. This jump in personnel includes Marines and Sailors from Battalion Landing Team 2/8 (BLT 2/8), Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (HMM 266) and MEU Service Support Group 24 (MSSG 24).
Some members of BLT 2/8 had already been involved in intensive training prior to activation, and that training just increased.
Additionally, members of HMM 266 were involved in flight training in the mountainous areas of West Virginia.
The intensive training that began for MEU personnel was organized and implemented by instructors from Camp Lejeune's Special Operations Training Group (SOTG).
SOTG is responsible for training the east coast MEU's, in addition to special operation groups of all branches of service and civilian task forces.
One of the most important courses that members of BLT 2/8 endured was the Non-Lethal Weapons Training Course.
This is a course that teaches Marines to safely and quickly calm unarmed groups of rowdy refugees, otherwise known as non-combatants.
Another course SOTG teaches Marines of the MEU is the Assault Climbers Course, in which Marines learn to overcome obstacles, like buildings or mountains, by climbing over them.
Additionally, SOTG instructs Marines of the MEU's boat company in Scout Swimmers Course, Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft Coxswain Course, Boat Interoperability, and Navigation Courses.
Throughout the predeployment workups, SOTG also facilitated the training for Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP), Humanitarian Assistance (which the MEU's MSSG is primarily responsible for), Non-Combatant Evacuation, Mass Casualty exercises, and boat/mechanized raids.
As intense as the training may seem from the instructor's angle, MEU personnel had to "step up to the plate" on every instance to ensure they received effective training.
According to Maj. D. Flynn, MSSG 24 Executive Officer, the training at Fort A. P. Hill was the first step in properly training for deployment, as he stated in an article from a December issue of The Globe.
"This is our first evolution in preparation for SOCEX," said Flynn. "With each exercise, we want to take our Marines a step closer to preparedness."
"Now that we've completed our pre-deployment, I think it's safe to say that we successfully completed our training and are ready to deploy as the Nation's 911 force," he added.
LtCol. Daniel Rogers, BLT 2/8 Commander, echoed Maj. Flynn on the importance of training and added that it builds the strength of the unit.
"A.P. Hill allows the BLT to solidify itself as a unit," said Rogers. "Additionally, we get to integrate operations with the MSSG."
A major training evolution for HMM 266 was Training in an Urban Environment Exercise XXXIX (TRUEX XXXIX), held in Savannah, Ga. Jan. 8 - 23.
LtCol. Edward Walsh, HMM 266 Commander, trained alongside his Marines during their training flights in Savannah.
"This is a unique training opportunity which provides our pilots the insight they need to perform urban operations," said Walsh.
TRUEX XXXIX proved very successful for the 24th MEU and gave the MEU personnel added confidence as they moved closer to their qualification exercise.
"It was a challenging and rewarding experience," said Capt. John Lindsey, CH-46 pilot, HMM 266, from Orlando, Fla. "It gave us good familiarization with urban terrain for when we deploy to the Mediterranean Sea."
The MEU headed into a series of exercises that led right up to their Special Operations Capable Exercise (SOCEX). Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise (MEUEX) was next on the list for the 24th MEU. The exercise consisted of three weeks aboard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) ships USS Kearsarge, USS Ponce and USS Carter Hall.
Its primary focus was for MEU personnel to familiarize themselves with shipboard life and working with Navy counterparts. Additionally, special staff and officers fine-tuned their ability to plan for and execute a variety of missions through the Rapid Response Planning Process.
Two weeks down and MEU personnel found themselves aboard the Kearsarge ARG once again, but this was to be the last time before they deployed to the Mediterranean Sea.
The exercises they covered during the last underway included Joint Task Force Exercise (which is primarily Navy facilitated), Supporting Arms Coordination Exercise (SACEX) and SOCEX.
The 24th MEU completed its Special Operations Capable Exercise (SOCEX) March 26 after five months of intensive training, giving it the title 24th MEU (SOC).
As the 24th MEU (SOC), it is now certified to perform a variety of missions during its deployment, such as mechanized raids, joint task force insertions, embassy reinforcements, boat assaults, humanitarian assistance, non-combatant evacuations, mass casualty operations, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, visit board search and seizures and airfield seizures.
A lot of hard work went into the last six months for MEU personnel, and now they can work at peak performance at the 'tip of the spear' as they remain 24 PROUD.
Follow the 24th MEU (SOC) deployment on their website at www.usmc.mil/24meu.