ABOARD USS PONCE -- One of the basic building blocks of the modern-day Marine Corps is the Marine Air Ground Task Force, a way of organizing personnel and equipment that offers commanders flexibility and speed in accomplishing missions.
Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable) are probably the best-known MAGTFs. They are routinely forward deployed on Naval shipping in support of U.S. objectives abroad and form an important part of the forces available to theater commanders-in-chief.
Mediterranean Shark '01, a bilateral training exercise conducted in Morocco by the 24th MEU (SOC), offered recent proof of the effectiveness of the MAGTF organizing principle. In simple terms, MAGTFs allow commands to task organize surface and air assets for use in meeting specific ends.
"For our staff to plan and execute all aspects of this exercise was a great experience," said Capt Charles Cassidy, of Chicago, Ill., operations officer for MEU Service Support Group 24, which was charged with conducting the exercise.
"It tested our ability to work together as a MAGTF in a bilateral environment, from pre-planning through the wash down of our equipment on the beach when we finished."
Mediterranean Shark was especially significant because it was conducted while the MEU was in a split-Amphibious Ready Group configuration. The bulk of MSSG-24 is embarked on USS Ponce, which traveled to Morocco by itself to participate in the exercise.
The ship separated from USS Kearsarge and USS Carter Hall after arriving in Spain upon the completion of its trans-Atlantic voyage. MSSG-24 Marines, normally tasked with providing combat service support for the entire MEU, performed both those and command and control functions during the exercise.
"Everything went well for us," said GySgt Marvin Edwards, of Columbus, Ohio, logistics chief for MSSG-24.
"We were able to get supplies to requesting units. It was also good training for our Marines. It was the first time a lot of them had worked outside of the U.S."
Mediterranean Shark consisted of a company-sized surface assault conducted by Co. "G", Battalion Landing Team 2/8. This was supported by the helicopter insertion of a Moroccan Royal Naval Infantry company. A detachment of CH-46 and UH-1N helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced) provided the aircraft for the evolution. Rounding out the major events of the exercise was the establishment of a beach support area.
The training area terrain consisted mostly of flat coastline abutted by arid foothills carved by deep ravines and gorges. The weather was mostly clear during the evolution, though clouds and light rain did appear.
"From an aviation perspective, this exercise was successful. Aircraft, aircrews, and maintainers all performed very well." said CWO2 Jeffrey Clemons, of Bryceville, Fla., maintenance material control officer, HMM-266 (Rein).
Cross-training in a variety of small-unit tactics and weapon systems between Marines and Moroccan forces provided opportunities for mutual understanding and improved communications.
"It was a good exercise," said GySgt Stanley Foster, of Queens, N.Y., company gunnery sergeant, for Co. "G."
"We got information on the ranges we'd be using before we arrived and were able to plan our training accordingly. Our main priorities were making sure no rounds left the training area and ensuring operational safety."
A significant aspect of the company's role in the exercise involved the use of Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft, which were launched from USS Ponce, over eight miles off the Moroccan coast.
A pleasant surprise for many of the Marines involved in Mediterranean Shark was the bonds they shared with several of the Moroccan Royal Naval Infantry officers. The Moroccan battalion and company commanders and the Tactical Exercise Control Group officer-in-charge were all graduates of the Basic School and Infantry Officers Course at Quantico, Va. Other Marine Corps schools attended by the Moroccans included Command and Staff College and Explosive Ordnance Disposal School.
"You can imagine how much easier this made our relations with the Moroccans," said LtCol John Lopez, of New York City, MSSG-24 commanding officer.
"I graduated from TBS the same year as their battalion commander. It definitely made things go a lot better."
Regardless of the scale of an exercise or mission or the size of the unit charged with executing it, the principles and procedures common to all MAGTFs provide an effective model for success. The 24th MEU (SOC) will continue to employ these during its tour as Landing Force Sixth Fleet 2-01.
Follow the 24th MEU (SOC) deployment on their website at www.usmc.mil/24meu.