ABOARD USS NASSAU --
As the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s pre-deployment training schedule approaches completion, the MEU’s air, sea, and ground components conducted their first collective ship-to-shore exercises during the 2-week Composite Unit Training Exercise beginning November 28.
COMPTUEX tested the MEU and Nassau Expeditionary Strike Group’s ability to launch individual units inland as an interrelated team and allowed the 24th MEU a last chance to integrate its subordinate elements into a cohesive fighting force before the II Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group officially evaluates the unit's deployment readiness in January.
“We (the MEU and the ESG) are the ultimate, bad Vegas marriage,” said Col. Peter Petronzio, commanding officer of the 24th MEU. “You take the MEU and the ESG, who don’t know each other and you slam them together, knowing full well going into it, you’re getting divorced in a year.”
“It’s a brand new blue and green team that comes together for 6 months and learns how to live with each other, how to work with each other and how to fight [alongside] with each other,” said Petronzio.
The focus has always been on building relationships between the elements, he added, and COMPTUEX helps build proficiency in shipboard operations, helps the MEU refine its ability to rapidly plan and execute missions, and allows us to continue building those ties with the other elements and their Navy counterparts. COMPTUEX stresses all the aspects of the MEU; the Command Element exercises its ability to command and control; logistics supports the MEU and performs their own missions such as humanitarian assistance; the Battalion Landing Team performs raid packages; and the Aviation Combat Element flies in support of almost all the missions.
More than 2,500 Marines and sailors from the Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-365 (Reinforced), and Combat Logistics Battalion-24 boarded USS Nassau, USS Nashville and USS Ashland with their equipment, prepared to set sail for the first time.
“The majority of the people on the MEU have never been on ship,” said Capt. Mark B. Windham, embarkation officer, 24th MEU. “This is the first time we actually loaded the [entire] MEU, and within in a compressed time frame, we have to train and going from ship to shore and conduct operations and get everything on the ship [for the upcoming deployment].”
The Marines and the Navy work hand-in-hand to accommodate the MEU’s and Navy’s personnel and equipment, which are essential to launching amphibious operations.
In order to get all the MEU’s assets on and off the ship while allowing them to work and do their individual missions and exercises with little friction as possible, the Navy and Marines must work as a team to provide the equipment and manpower for a successful embark, said Sgt. Daniel Callaway, embarkation non-commissioned officer, 24th MEU.
Several hours of work are involved to ensure all the forces and equipment are on the right landing craft, to the right beach, with right person, at the right time, said Windham.
“The function of the ship is designed to support the Marine Corps, to get them to the fight,” said Chief Petty Officer Rick A. Gordon, lead chief petty officer, hangar deck division, Nassau ESG. “From our side of the house we’re moving aircraft, and we have the guys in the well deck moving the Landing Craft, Utilities. That is what the ship is designed for, to take the Marine Corps to the fight and we do what we got to do to support them.”