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Photo Information

Lance Cpl. Ewen DeWitt, a machine gunner with Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, mounts a M-2 .50-caliber machine gun on top of an Internally Transportable Vehicle during the Defense of the Amphibious Task Force Naval qualification exercise aboard the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) Dec. 3, 2011. DATF is one of many qualifications that make up Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), scheduled to take place Nov. 28 to Dec. 21. The DATF drill allowed the Marines to integrate with their Navy counterparts to rehearse how they would protect the ships of the amphibious ready group while traveling through high threat areas at sea.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Michael Petersheim

Marine Corps acronyms spell a wide range of capabilities

19 Dec 2011 | Sgt. Richard Blumenstein 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Pick up any random military correspondence, publication, or journal entry and it’s sure to resemble an alphabet soup of acronyms and tongue-twisters undecipherable to all but a select few civilians. Indeed, even some of the most hard-charging Marines would be hard-pressed to decode the acronyms they themselves use every day.

These same mind-bending acronyms are currently being put to use by Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX). COMPTUEX took place Nov. 28 to Dec. 20, to test the 24th MEU and Amphibious Squadron 8’s (PHIBRON 8) ability to conduct various missions they could face while deployed - NEO, HA/DR, MEDCAP, RRMT, EVBSS, TRAP and DAFT to name a few. All these acronyms mean something to the Marines.

Although NEO may immediately conjure up the image of a heroic protagonist in the latest action packed science fiction movie, the Marine Corps uses it to describe Non-combatant Evacuation Operations. A Marine Corps NEO is an important mission of the 24th MEU and contains much of the same action packed experiences of a major motion picture. When a country is thrown into turmoil due to instability or civil unrest, the ability to swoop in and provide an escape for U.S. citizens and others authorized for evacuation is an job that a MEU is perfectly designed for.

The flexibility of using aircraft and surface craft from amphibious shipping gives the embassy a lot of options when considering an evacuation.

“It’s a mission we would execute in the event the security situation in a country has deteriorated to the point that the host nation cannot provide security for U.S. citizens… or third country nationals,” said Capt. Bill Horton, the operations officer with Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th MEU.

The 24th MEU conducted a simulated NEO off the shores of Camp Lejeune, N.C., last week. An initial liaison team was flown nearly 400 miles from the USS Iwo Jima while off the coast of Florida all the way to the notional embassy at Camp Lejeune using MV-22 Ospreys to begin coordination with the ambassador and their staff.

The scenario lead the Marines to eventually inserting security forces and processing role players who needed to be evacuated.

After a devastating earthquake or crushing wave turns life upside down, the most important four letter word may not be what you think. HA/DR is short for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, an invaluable tool a MEU can wield to bring immediate temporary relief to some of the most remote locations on the planet.

HA/DR missions are special because Marines and Sailors, acting as first responders, fill a gap until more permanent aid-oriented organizations can step in and take reins of the situation. Furthermore, a MEU has the unique ability to provide security and protection against malicious forces that may see an opportunity to exploit victims.

“If a typhoon or a tsunami hits someplace, we start providing food, water, some medical services, and possibly transportation to get isolated people to a safer place – this is the focus of disaster relief,” Horton said. “If its humanitarian assistance, it’s going to focus more on going into a conflict region and providing security and temporary shelter until the situation calms down. It all depends on the specific actions of what’s required in the environment.”

The 24th MEU conducted a simulated Humanitarian Assistance operation while training off the coast of Jacksonville, FL, from Dec. 8-10, delivering MREs, water, and medicines to a fictitious country reeling from the effects of a notional hurricane.

This time, CLB 24 (Combat Logistics Battalion 24) was the main effort, aided by a HAST (Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team), an initial liaison element that developed necessary courses of action for follow on forces. In recent years, MEUs have conducted HA/DR missions in Pakistan, Haiti, Thailand, Bangladesh and even here stateside after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

A same day visit to the doctor and dentist doesn’t sound like an event worth looking forward to, but for some, malaria pills and tooth extraction are a necessary and welcome addition to quality of life. The Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) and Dental Civic Action Program (DENCAP) are hallmark MEU operations and an effective way to develop relations with countries needing simple medical and dental needs.

“We provide care to populations that don’t have access to it,” said Navy LT. Christopher Ketchie, a medical planner with the Command Element, 24th MEU.

An RRMT, on the other hand, is a different type of medical mission. Essentially, a Rapid Response Medical Team is exactly what it sounds like—roughly a dozen or so medical providers including a Navy doctor, numerous hospital corpsmen, communication Marines, and a security element. Its purpose is to deploy from ship and handle casualties on all scales without the aid of typical mass casualty assets.

“It’s a light, small footprint medical team that can react to mass casualties,” said Ketchie. “The team is used in various situations where we can’t provide large amounts of gear, corpsmen and medical providers.”

Pirates and weapons smugglers alike should surrender, rather than face the wrath of a Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) mission.

VBSS operations are designed to board and search suspicious vessels at sea for weapons smuggling or other criminal activity and are distinctive in that both the Marine Corps and Navy can have tactical control. The Navy contains the task organization to board a compliant vessel while Marines specialize in non-compliant boarding. However, Marines and Sailors often join forces and conduct VBSS missions together. The 24th MEU and PHIBRON 8 recently excelled during a simulated Expanded VBSS mission on Dec. 7 off the coast of Florida during COMPTUEX. It was upgraded to an expanded mission (EVBSS) because the target vessel was simultaneously boarded from above by fast roping Marines out of helicopters and from below using Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boats—a typical VBSS mission encompasses water transit only. Marines stalked room to room, meticulously clearing each part of the ship until safely handing it over to their Navy counterparts.

Even if Owen Wilson is not the downed pilot needing a quick and rapid rescue, a MEU’s Marines and Sailors will surely step up to the plate and provide a reaction force for a TRAP mission.

Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel missions are a means to recover downed pilots or sensitive aircraft from the clutches of potential enemies. These missions are typically performed by a small team of Force Reconnaissance Marines and can occur in as little as two hours after a crash.

“Usually it’s behind enemy lines so we don’t want to create a large signature,” said Staff Sgt. Jaime Orozco, a reconnaissance Marine with the 24th MEU’s Force Reconnaissance Platoon. “We want to just go in there quick and get out.”

The 26th MEU actually conducted a TRAP mission earlier this year in Libya, rescuing a downed Air Force pilot after his F-15 crashed. Marines launched from amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and rescued the pilot before anyone else could get to him. Despite the steel massiveness and awesome firepower of modern naval ships, they are still vulnerable when in proximity to land where a diminutive enemy can exploit an opportunity to get close.

To defend against would-be attackers, the Navy conducts DATF, or Defense of Amphibious Task Force operations. Marines participate by providing air assets and a show of force on the ship’s flight deck, armed with an assortment of weapons ranging from rifles and machine guns to surface-to-air missile systems.

“Its protection for the ship,” said Master Sgt. Chris Brueggeman, the operations chief for Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th MEU. “So an unidentified vessel doesn’t commit a terrorist attack against it.”

The 24th MEU rehearsed DATF tactics during COMPTUEX integrating into the Navy’s defensive posture with heavy and medium machine guns, snipers and Stinger missiles. A MEU is capable of conducting such a variety of missions because it combines the full capability of a Marine Air Ground Task Force. For each mission mentioned, all members of the team are involved from each of the elements of the MEU – the Command Element, Aviation Combat Element, Ground Combat Element, and Logistics Combat Element.

Even though the MEU’s everyday language is a puzzling mess of consonants and vowels, the results are quite clear. To its friends, MEU means a helping hand to assist in a variety of ways - helping to make a bad situation into a better one. To its enemies, it translates into difficulty, frustration, spoiled efforts and defeat.