ABOARD USS IWO JIMA -- Approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) set sail this week for the European and Central Command theaters of operation, marking the MEU’s return to the front lines of the Global War on Terrorism.
The deployment comes on the heels of a rigorous training cycle that kicked off in November and concluded last month with the MEU earning its “Special Operations Capable” designation after the successful completion of its Certification Exercise.
After tearful farewells with family and friends, Marines and sailors set their sights and steely-eyed focus on the task ahead and reveled in the excitement of taking the fight to the enemy as part of one of the nation’s premier expeditionary rapid-response forces.
Leaving behind his parents and a girlfriend, Cpl. Mark Lugo, an airframes mechanic from Weslaco, Texas, who is assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced), is heading out for his third deployment and said he’s happy to be going with the 24th MEU, which he said is “battle-ready.”
Like Lugo, many of the troops are returning for their second or third overseas deployment, making the MEU an experienced, battle-hardened force that is capable of thriving in a multitude of chaotic scenarios. Still, a number of Leathernecks are going into battle for the first time.
“I hear everyone’s stories and I want to get right over to the fight,” said Pfc. Nathan Gilkerson, a native of Luray, Va., and a mortarman with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “I wish we could fly straight over.”
The MEU is a flexible force that can devastate the enemy in small-scale, low-intensity conflicts with the speed and precision of a special operations force. It can overwhelm threats with the soul-crushing intensity of a Marine Air Ground Task Force that features several rifle companies, tanks, and the uncompromising power of a reinforced helicopter squadron.
The 24th MEU, which completed its last overseas deployment -- a seven-month tour in Iraq -- in February 2005, is composed of its command element; BLT 1/8; HMM-365 (Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 24.