FORT PICKETT, Va. --
Once the decision is made, America’s most versatile quick-reaction force heads into uncertainty and danger prepared to act. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a self-sustaining Marine Corps unit complete with air and ground combat forces demonstrated their ability to bring stability to the worst of situations, while conducting Humanitarian Assistance pre-deployment training here Sept. 4, 2007.
Marines and equipment frantically exit oversized vehicles and fan out on a large field. Precise orders from those in charge organize the effort of this chaotic assortment of men and machines.
On a small hill in the midst of the scurried work, Staff Sgt. James Shorter, humanitarian assistance officer-in-charge, CLB-24, explains his mission, “We are setting up a humanitarian assistance camp for 300 orphans.”
Humanitarian assistance is one of three key non-combat missions CLB-24 performs for the 24th MEU. The others are non-combatant evacuations and mass casualty aid, he added.
“We are setting up tents for people who are homeless, like with Hurricane Katrina, they didn’t have a place to stay,” said Sgt. Walter Gamezrickli, general mechanic, CLB-24. “If something like that happens we can go over and help.”
Far from a simple campground, the CLB Marines begin erecting building after building in preparation for the simulated refugees.
“We are putting up neighborhoods for different families and family situations: single females, single males, families and family members separated from families,” said Staff Sgt. Reginald Hill, battalion gunnery sergeant, CLB-24.
The CLB also put up food preparation areas, showers and a reception show to process those seeking assistance, he added.
This exercise is performed by CLB-24 units as part of their pre-deployment training, but the Marines in the field are making this anything but standard, explained Shorter.
“We have great leadership from the top down. These guys are really taking this training seriously, just as if we were doing this for real,” he said.
The speed at which his Marines created the small city proved that Shorter’s words were more than hyperbole. Given 12 hours to construct the area, the Marines were done in the time it takes to blink.
“You haven’t seen anyone put it up this fast have you?,” Shorter asked Marines observing the progress. “Look at this, they are almost done and it’s only been an hour. I said we can do it in six (hours), and we are going to do it in three,” he boasted of his troops.
But that’s what happens when you send in the Marines.