ABOARD THE USS IWO JIMA -- Amid growing turmoil in Lebanon, Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit assisted in the voluntary departure of the first group of U.S. citizens today.
Twenty-one Americans were flown from the U.S. embassy to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where Marines had staged yesterday to prepare for the operation.
Two CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters, bearing a small team of Marines, took off from the British Royal Air Force Base in Akrotiri, Cyprus, just before 2 p.m. local time (7 a.m. EST).
The helicopters landed an hour later on the embassy grounds, where the initial wave of American citizens wishing to leave Lebanon had assembled.
After dropping off the Marines and picking up the American citizens awaiting transportation, the helicopters lifted off and returned to Cyprus, landing at approximately 5 p.m. local time.
“Mission complete,” said Col. Ron Johnson, commander of the 24th MEU. “We’re now setting the conditions should the U.S. Ambassador decide to change the posture of U.S. personnel and citizens in Lebanon.”
The security situation in Lebanon prompted the ambassador on Saturday to formally request military assistance in facilitating the departure.
The 24th MEU sent a team of more than 100 Marines to Cyprus late Saturday to prepare for today’s mission and lay the groundwork for follow-on operations, should they be needed.
Composed of 2,200 Marines and sailors and armed with an array of weaponry and equipment designed for a wide variety of operations, the MEU serves as a sea-based quick-reaction force.
The 24th MEU consists of its headquarters element; Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 24.