MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
The countdown has begun.
In less than 7 months one of the Marine Corps'smallest, fiercest and most agile Marine Air-Ground Task Forces will deploy to support operations for European and Central Commands.
During an activation ceremony at William P. T. Hill Field here Aug. 10, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit assumed operational control of its air, ground and logistical elements in order to support a wide array of combat and humanitarian operations around the world during its deployment scheduled for February.
1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment became the Battalion Landing Team, the ground element of the MEU. This element is a combat-ready infantry unit ready to go to any clime and place.
“The BLT gains a recon platoon, an amphibious assault vehicle platoon, a light armor reconnaissance platoon, a combat engineer platoon and an artillery platoon. With all these reinforcements to the (unit), it becomes a BLT and the capabilities that we have grow in regards to the missions we are capable of,” said Capt. Todd Mahal, BLT 1/6 operations officer.
Allowing the 24th MEU to sustain itself in full combat for 15 days without resupply is the job of the Combat Logistics Battalion 24, the MEU’s logistical element.
“We make sure the war fighters are ready to fight,” explained First Sgt. Luke Mercardante, CLB-24 sergeant major. “The CLB is the complete support network for the BLT and the MEU.”
As such, they allow the commander to conduct non-combat evacuations, medical treatment and humanitarian aid operations, while also providing their own explosive ordnance technicians and security force, he added.
“Knowing that we are just as important to the Global War on Terrorism as any other part of the MEU, we bring our own punch to the fight,” said Mercardante.
A hallmark of the CLB's ability was the 24th MEU's evacuation in Beirut, Lebanon during their last deployment -- the largest evacuation of American citizens from foreign shores.
Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced) joined the 24th MEU as the Air Combat Element. Much more than a normal medium helicopter squadron, the designation means the squadron comes loaded with a wider assortment of aircraft.
“We became reinforced because we attach non-organic capabilities from other units to the core CH-46 “Sea Knight” squadron such as CH-53E “Super Stallion,” AH-1W “Super Cobra,” UH-1N “Huey” and the AV-8B “Harrier,” said Lt. Col. John C. Vara, HMM-365 (Rein.) commanding officer.
The range of attack and transport helicopters to attack planes adds to the fire power and maneuverability of the 24th MEU, while increasing the distance and speed at which Marines can support operations, he said.
The ceremony signals the start of an intense period of preparation for all of the elements of the 24th MEU. During the work-up phase they will transform from four separate elements (BLT, CLB, ACE and command element) into one unit with one mission, to become the Marine Corps'fully-integrated, versatile, crisis-response force.
“(The activation ceremony) is a significant event, up until this point we have been a group who knew they are going to go forward soon and deploy,” said Col. Peter Petronzio, 24th MEU commander. “Today beings our six-month training followed by deployment and each of you brings a unique skill set and a unique fighting spirit to the history of the 24th MEU. The (MEU) has an incredible history, has done some amazing things and I know that together we will add to that.”
As the commander of the MEU, Petronzio has the awesome power of the MAGTF at his fingertips.
“It's the singular greatest job that I could aspire to. To serve with and for the 2,200 Marines and sailors that are part of the 24th MEU,” he said. “I basically have my own Marine Corps out here.”
This Corps of highly trained Marines and sailors will head out into the European and Central Command theaters to serve as a quick response force, capable of amphibious operations, mechanized and helicopter raids, noncombatant evacuations, humanitarian assistance, urban warfare, peace enforcement and more. And on this day, enemies of the free and brave received their warning order.