CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Drawing a major step closer to rejoining the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, MEU Service Support Group 24 formally activated here Feb. 6.
In a brief ceremony along the banks of the New River, outside the headquarters of 2nd Force Service Support Group, Lt. Col. Vinny Coglianese assumed command of the unit five months after taking charge and just two weeks before the MEU begins its latest round of pre-deployment training.
Speaking to guests, with most of his 283 Marines behind him and heavy winds swirling about the outdoor amphitheater, Coglianese declared the MEU's Combat Service Support Element prepared for duty.
"Our nation's at war, and MSSG-24 is ready to serve," he said.
For Coglianese, a native of Spring Lake, N.J., and a veteran of 20 years, the honor had to wait a little longer than usual.
When he arrived in September, five months after MSSG-24 stood down following an eight-month deployment, his new unit was rebuilding into a combat service support detachment, a smaller version of an MSSG formed to support units no larger than a regiment.
With the remaining elements necessary to fully man a MEU's logistics arm added to its rolls and a ceremony to mark the occasion, CSSD-24 officially became MSSG-24 and Coglianese became a battalion commander.
It's been a dream 20 years in the making.
"I think [for] every Marine officer who comes into the Marine Corps, battalion command would probably be the greatest achievement that someone [could] aim for," said Coglianese, whose wife and three sons attended the ceremony. "To me, reflecting back, it's a privilege and an honor to get command."
Fully formed, MSSG-24 is now set to join its new parent command Feb. 18, when the 2,200-strong 24th MEU assembles to formally kick off its six-month pre-deployment training cycle.
In an interview a day before the ceremony, Coglianese stressed that preparing for an operational deployment in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, demands a mindset free of the expectations that often marked peacetime cruises.
"I emphasize every time I have an opportunity that the nation's at war," he said. "9/11 has affected everyone. ...I think [with] past MEU floats, people thought about liberty ports and training exercises. Now we're thinking about what combat operations are we going to be involved in. It's changed life forever."
Coglianese's Marines, several of whom served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, understand well that the training ahead will be challenging but vital.
"It's going to be long and hard, but it's what we have to do to get ready," said Sgt. Joseph Dawson, an electrician and a native of New Haven, Conn.
In preparing his Marines for combat, Coglianese has been stressing the basics.
Foremost among his objectives, Coglianese said, is "to ensure every Marine in the MSSG is proficient in his or her combat skills. Every Marine's a rifleman."
As one of the MEU's essential components, the MSSG contains all the logistics specialties necessary to keep air and ground forces and their equipment working properly. The MSSG provides support in the medical, dental, supply, motor transport, engineering, communications, military police, and maintenance fields.
"We see ourselves as the offensive linemen of a football team," said Coglianese. "You have to make a block for the running back to score. You have to be there at the right time and the right place."
MSSG-24 has been lining up in front of the 24th MEU since 1980, when the MEU was known as a Marine Amphibious Unit. From Lebanon and Grenada in the early 1980s to Somalia and Bosnia in the 1990s to Iraq last year, MSSG-24 has contributed to nearly every major engagement the U.S. military has undertaken since the unit's initial activation.
Lance Cpl. Sarah A. Beavers contributed to this report.