ABOARD USS IWO JIMA -- Nearly 1,000 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fresh from duty in Lebanon, arrived in the East African nation of Djibouti Thursday to begin their first training exercise since returning to the Central Command area of operations.
The Marines moved ashore by helicopter and air-cushioned landing craft dispatched from two amphibious assault ships in the Gulf of Aden, the USS Iwo Jima and USS Nashville.
They’ll spend the next several days firing an array of weapons aboard desert training ranges in the small but strategically important country, situated just north of Somalia at the base of the Horn of Africa. Djibouti is home to the headquarters of the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, a key component of U.S. strategy in the Global War on Terror.
The Marines of the 24th MEU, who returned to the CENTCOM theater Sunday after spending most of the past month off the coast of Lebanon in the Mediterranean Sea, welcomed the chance to emerge from the confines of the ship.
“We’ll take every opportunity we can to sharpen our tactical skills,” said Col. Ron Johnson, the MEU commander. “Preparation for combat is continuous, and we want to be at peak proficiency if and when we get the nod.”
Most of the Marines training ashore are with the MEU’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. Joined by leathernecks from the MEU’s other elements, the Marines will fire the gamut of individual and crew-served weapons in their inventory, from small arms to heavy machine guns to mortars. Additionally, pilots and crew from the MEU’s aviation combat element will fire a variety of precision-guided munitions, honing their skills in providing close-air and deep-strike support.
The training in Djibouti is the first opportunity the Marines have had to fire and maneuver in open terrain since mid-July, when they cut short a training exercise in Jordan to assist the departure of American citizens from Lebanon.
The 24th MEU, the landing force for the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, 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.