ABOARD USS IWO JIMA -- After assisting in the departure of nearly 15,000 U.S. citizens from Lebanon, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned today to the Central Command area of operations.
Forces assigned to the U.S. European Command have moved in to replace the MEU and are now providing support to the U.S. embassy in Lebanon.
“We’re needed elsewhere,” said Col. Ron Johnson, commander of the 24th MEU, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. “Though we hadn’t seen this mission coming when we left North Carolina in June, we were ready for anything, and it was well within our capabilities.”
The MEU and the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group had rushed to the Mediterranean Sea last month to help with the departure of U.S. citizens from Lebanon after fighting broke out between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah.
When the crisis erupted on July 12, the MEU’s 2,200 Marines and sailors were in the middle of a training exercise in the Jordanian desert. Three days later, with the international airport in Beirut closed, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon authorized the departure of some embassy personnel and requested military assistance in transporting other American citizens who wished to leave the country.
A detachment of more than 100 Marines and three CH-53 transport helicopters immediately launched from Jordan to the island of Cyprus to prepare for evacuation operations and to pave the way for the arrival of the rest of the MEU.
On July 16, two CH-53s flew to the embassy to insert a security platoon and to air-lift the first group of U.S. citizens to Cyprus. The trip marked the first deployment of Marines to Lebanon in more than 20 years.
Within 10 days, working closely with the embassy and using a combination of helicopters, landing craft and chartered commercial vessels, the 24th MEU and Iwo Jima Strike Group had helped move more than 14,000 Americans to safety.
With the MEU and Strike Group now back in the Red Sea, CENTCOM has more flexibility to respond to other contingencies in its area of responsibility. Over the next couple of months, barring other orders, the MEU will participate in a series of planned training exercises throughout the region. As always, the MEU remains capable of rapidly shifting course to respond to an unforseen crisis or to support ongoing operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The 24th MEU consists of its command element; Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 24. The MEU is more than two months into an expected six-month deployment.