MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- From Operation Iraqi Freedom to a special purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force in the Gulf Coast, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit continues to validate the Marine Corps expeditionary warfighting doctrine.
As the 24th MEU and its slated battalion landing team, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, begin their training for an upcoming deployment, the experience gained from recent deployments and real-world operations has become ingrained in their training process.
"Our training is geared towards combat, because if we are going to stop anywhere on this upcoming deployment, we have to be ready," said Cpl. Terrance Allen, rifleman and team leader for 1st squad, 3rd platoon, Bravo Company, 1/8 and a native of Hackensack, N.J. "There are a lot of junior Marines, so we start off slow to ensure a strong foundation, then we turn up the intensity as we go along."
Allen said the NCOs in the battalion are using their previous deployment experience to bring 1/8's newest Marines up to speed.
"We are focusing on getting everyone on the same page, so that each platoon tackles the training the same way," Allen said. "Each of us brings that first hand experience to the table to train our new Marines with combat tested tactics, techniques and procedures so they can become well rounded and better prepared."
As the direct link between the commander and the troops, Master Sgt. Donald L. Funkhouser, 1/8 operations chief and a native of Omaha, Neb., said the noncommissioned officers have a vital role in passing on experience and knowledge to the junior members of the battalion.
Funkhouser said the NCO is the major player in the Systems Approach to Training, a method of training that provides systematic collection and careful analysis of data that aids in decision-making.
"(This battalion) has a wealth of knowledge due to the personnel we have and the experience and knowledge of our Marines," Funkhouser said. "We employ the SAT process to effectively transfer that information and experience to the new Marines."
The Marines of the command element and 1/8 were able to transfer the skills and experience gained from constant training in eastern North Carolina to the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast.
The MEU's response to Hurricane Katrina proved not only good for the residents of the Gulf Coast, but also provided the command element, BLT, and MEU Service Support Group a real world operational environment prior to beginning work-up training.
"Katrina was an opportunity for the new Marines to get their feet wet conducting real-world operations in a less stressful environment than combat," Allen said. "Most of them had never been on a ship or ridden in an Assault Amphibian Vehicle, two things they are guaranteed to do in the MEU."
Rolling over the experience gained in Mississippi and Louisiana, the Marines of the command element recently focused their skills on coordinating and operating an improvised command operations center during their command post exercise.
"It was a great drill for mission processing," said Sgt. Mathew B. Jaroslawski, fire support man and a native of Waterford, Mich. "Missions have to be processed in a matter of seconds, so the CPX gave us the opportunity to get hands on training to prepare for real world operations."
"Any type of training operation gives you the ability to become more familiar with the gear and the opportunity to learn more about your Marines and their capabilities," said Sgt. Cameron J. Brock, radio operator and a native of Elysian, Minn. "We have a real-world mind-set when we train so that we are better prepared when we are deployed."
During the three-day exercise the Marines established a command operations center in two abandoned buildings aboard Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Providing their own power, communications, as well as secure and non-secure Internet, the Marines worked through simulated scenarios to fine tune their operational capability.
"The CPX was extremely helpful because the wide variety of missions that come through the COC all require specific processing," Jaroslawski said. "You can study the process on your own, but until you can sit down and actually work through a mission, you don't get the whole experience of all that's involved in command and control."
As the 24th MEU approaches 'chop week,' a time when it will take command of its BLT, aviation combat and combat logistics elements, some of the Marines said their training this year is more thorough and intense compared to their last deployment.
"So far we've done a lot more training focusing on learning extra gear and new equipment," said Sgt. Dominique E. Polk, radio supervisor and native of New Orleans. "From conditioning hikes to crew served weapons classes, I have the feeling we will be better prepared for wherever we go."
Focusing on a broad range of military training in addition to job specific training, the recent training is helping to create more well-rounded Marines.
"We are not only training more often, but in many different areas," said Master Sgt. Harry Garcia, assistant operations chief and native of New York. "Regardless of their occupational specialty, these Marines are becoming increasingly proficient in infantry weapons, tactics and procedures in addition to day to day job."
As the Marines and commands of the 24th MEU advance in their pre-deployment training, they continue to build off the strong foundation and experience gained from the combat and real-world operations of previous deployments.