ABOARD THE USS IWO JIMA -- After savoring its first Christmas at home in two years, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit wasted little time in resuming preparations for its upcoming deployment.
The 24th MEU scattered its forces from North Carolina to Virgina and out to sea for the first major exercises for their predeployment training cycle.
As the MEU’s command element moved from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Norfolk, Va., on Jan. 5 to board the USS Iwo Jima for the unit’s first at-sea drill, the MEU’s ground combat and logistics elements made their way to Fort A.P. Hill, Va., for three weeks of field maneuvers.
In North Carolina, Marines set up the Joint Force Task Enabler – a mobile communications suite – at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, while other elements prepared to spend a week in Wilmington honing their reconnaissance and surveillance skills.
By spreading elements across nearly 400 hundred miles, the MEU aims to test its long-range communications skills, which are essential to its ability to command and control widely distributed forces.
The weeklong Group Sail exercise aboard the Iwo Jima and two sister ships marks the first time during the six-month pre-deployment cycle that the Marines and sailors train together at sea.
Key objectives for the Marines include establishing shipboard communications and refining their command-and-control procedures. The exercise also gives pilots from the MEU’s air combat element a chance to refresh their skills at operating from the deck of a ship.
The MEU commander, Col. Ron Johnson, called the exercise a “freebie,” an early opportunity for his Marines to develop relationships with their Navy counterparts, to set the stage for later training evolutions and to focus exclusively on preparing for combat.
The 24th MEU is scheduled to deploy in the spring with the seven vessels of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group. The Marines’ mission and destination have yet to be determined.