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24th MEU (SOC) maintains readiness, improves relations in Kenya

16 Dec 2002 | Capt. Dan McSWeeney 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) recently participated in Edged Mallet 2003, a split-Amphibious Ready Group exercise held in the jungles of Kenya.

Although members of the unit were challenged on various levels during the experience, ultimately they demonstrated their versatility and penchant for working closely with their international partners.

The routine exercise focused on two objectives: bilateral training between members of the MEU and units of the Kenyan Department of Defense, and providing humanitarian assistance to local residents.

Marines and Sailors representing all four of the MEU's elements participated in the exercise while embarked aboard USS Austin, which split away from the other ships of the Nassau ARG.

"We went straight into this exercise after a month of peace support operations in Kosovo and a combined arms exercise in Djibouti," said Lt. Col Wes Weston, of Cedar Point, N.C., commanding officer, MEU Service Support Group-24, who was responsible for the overall planning and execution of the exercise.

"I can't think of a better illustration of our flexibility and staying power as a unit," he said.

The timing of the exercise was significant.  One day after Marines and Sailors commenced their offload at Manda Bay Naval Base, where MEU personnel established a base camp, terrorists struck a hotel and fired surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli passenger jet in Mombasa, Kenya's second-largest city, located south of the training area.

"We took appropriate measures in the wake of those attacks," said Capt. Denise Garcia, of Nogales, Ariz., operations officer for MSSG-24. "Our movement of personnel and gear was temporarily suspended," she said.

Once the situation was assessed to be suitable, the offload from USS Austin continued.  Several modifications were made, but these did not alter the original objectives established for the bilateral exercise.

Individual Marines and Sailors demonstrated flexibility during the events.

"Instead of having our Marines and Sailors refurbish some local facilities, we provided the Kenyans with materials so they could complete the project themselves and we helped supervise their work," said Staff Sgt. Ed Bowie, engineering chief, MSSG-24, of Bristol, N.H. "The bottom line is that we accomplished our objectives," he said.

The training area provided many challenges to members of the MEU.  As Kenya is located south of the equator, temperatures reached over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Marines and Sailors encountered many species foreign to them, from scorpions and foot-long millipedes to poisonous spiders, antelopes and baboons. 

At a watering hole during late afternoons, members of the MEU observed hippopotami and other large animals exiting thick vegetation in the area to cool off.

While the humanitarian assistance portion of Edged Mallet consisted of several engineering projects and medical and dental treatment for local residents, another aspect of the exercise was the bilateral training that occurred between Golf Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, and soldiers from Kenyan units.

"This was an excellent opportunity for us to share some of our training with others and, at the same time, re-evaluate our own Standard Operating Procedures," said Capt. Ron Jones, commanding officer of Golf Company, a native of Midlothian, Texas.  "Our Kenyan counterparts were very disciplined, motivated and well-trained.  Surprisingly, they are organized, trained and equipped very much like us.  The culminating event of the bilateral training was an airfield seizure executed by 3rd Platoon, Golf Company and First Platoon, Company C, 15th Kenyan Rifles; it was executed very well and was a great ending to a very successful training event."

The Marines who work in many different specialties pulled together to ensure Edged Mallet '03 was completed successfully.

"Communication was a key element throughout the exercise," said Cpl Andres Mogollon, of Queens, N.Y., a computer systems specialist with MSSG-24.  "We had multiple forms of communication from the time we set foot in Kenya until the day we went back aboard the Austin."

This was critical in ensuring that plans were coordinated with members of the MEU still aboard the ship and with other key players in different locations.

From an aviation perspective, the exercise provided many learning opportunities.

"Kenya is a very humid environment," said Capt. Bill Delorenzo, of Duxbury, Mass., a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter pilot.  "That had an impact on the way we handled our aircraft.  It was a good experience, because the more environments you're exposed to, the better off your overall flying abilities."

The events in Mombasa, along with President Bush's subsequent meeting with Kenyan President Moi, focused significant U.S. and international media attention on Edged Mallet.  This provided Marines, representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and Kenyan defense officials the opportunity to express their solidarity.

"Despite the attacks in Mombasa, the unit was able to accomplish all stated missions of the exercise," said Weston.  "This (exercise) is a demonstration that the United States stands by its allies and that the U.S. Marines will not be intimidated by acts of terrorism."

Another aspect of the exercise was the medical and dental services provided by MSSG-24.

"The Medical and Dental Civil Affairs Projects were a great opportunity for the medical staff to offer quality medical care to the local population as well as a great learning experience for us," said Chief Jeff Puglisi, of Shelton, Conn., an independent-duty hospital corpsman for MSSG-24.

All said, about 750 local residents were treated by Kenyan and MSSG-24 medical and dental personnel.

"We treated many diseases that are not normally found in the U.S.  The Kenyan people were extremely friendly, which added to our enjoyment of the operation. The experience gained by our medical staff in the treatment of tropical illnesses was invaluable," said Puglisi.

Upon the conclusion of the exercise, participating Marines and Sailors returned to USS Austin and made their way to a much-needed liberty port - their first since leaving Camp Lejeune, N. C., almost four months before.

"Edged Mallet was a significant event in this theater," said 24th MEU (SOC) Commanding Officer Richard Mills, of Huntington, NY. "This exercise helped paint a positive picture of Americans in the region.  This stems from the fact that Kenya was visited by two very different groups of people while our joint maneuvers were being conducted.  One group went to great lengths to inflict violence on the Kenyans in Mombasa.  We, on the other hand, improved an important and mutually beneficial relationship by training and working hand-in-hand with the Kenyans," he said.  "This is one of the great benefits of being forward deployed with a MEU.  You get to do a lot and have an impact on many levels."