NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. -- During a large-scale exercise like the Training in an Urban Environment Exercise the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is executing in the Hampton Roads area, the missions come hard and heavy, one after another. That high operational tempo is good for giving Marines a realistic look at life in a combat zone, but on March 3, 2006, the Devil Dogs of Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 24 switched gears and took care of some different business.
MSSG-24 took about 20 Marines to Redwing Park in Virginia Beach, Va., to transform some field training and maneuver exercises into a goodwill gesture.
“Hopefully they’ll see that not only do we go over to Iraq and do those sort of things, but we also come here to help the community,” said Cpl. Michael Smee, a Harvey’s Lake, Pa., native. “We just try to help out where we can. It’s just something we can do for them. That way it isn’t just them seeing us fighting wars and shooting guns; it’s giving back to the community who supports us every time we come here.”
The Marines rolled two seven-ton trucks and two humvees into the park to clean-up some deadfall and cut back some unruly brush. Over the course of three days, the Marines will clear out more than fifty trees, cut back acres of brush, and reestablish the nature trails. The goal is for the park to be ready for local residents by the time spring rolls around.
Bob “HoJo” Hojnacki, a retired Navy Chief who now works at the park, was pleased to see the Marines roll in and appreciates the Marines’ work ethic.
“I love it, I love it! I spent 24 years in the Navy and the last five were with the Marines. I missed it,” said Hojnacki, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native. “Heck, I’d take Marines any day of the week and twice on Sunday because they know how to get the job done.”
Marines didn’t let helping the community hinder their combat training. Every aspect of the mission had value.
“They are getting some training while they are out here. As we came out here, we went over how to secure an area, set up a defensive posture and started work after that,” said 1st Lt. Paul Sok, 26, officer-in-charge of the MSSG’s Engineer Detachment. “They are also getting a lot of training as far as tree-cutting, using chainsaws and axes, because they don’t get a lot of that training back at Camp Lejeune.”
Redwing Park is a 97-acre park complete with baseball diamonds, basketball courts, playgrounds, barbecue pits, and will have refurbished nature trails when the MSSG-24 Marines finish helping out the Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation Administration.
The 24th MEU is continuing TRUEX operations in the Hampton Roads area to hone their skills and perfect their tactics before they see real combat, they’ll be familiar with their role as the Marine Corps’ quick-reaction force. The 24th MEU will be conducting training for the next couple of weeks in preparation for their upcoming deployment.