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26th MEU completes its training

Deployment this fall; destination undeclared

After six months of training, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is ready to deploy.

http://www.jdnews.com/news/training_58481___article.html/26th_unit.html

July 31, 2008 - 12:51AM
JENNIFER HLAD
DAILY NEWS STAFF

"At this point in time, we're just ready to load up the ship and head east," said Lt. Col. John Capdepon, executive officer of the 26th MEU.

The MEU - made up of a command element, an aviation combat element, an infantry battalion landing team and a combat logistics element - went through a compressed predeployment period, training in three at-sea periods instead of the traditional four. Because of operational requirements, the unit extended its composite training unit exercise by about a week, using the training period to also complete what normally would be a separate certification exercise.

But the Marines "are prepared, both mentally and operationally, to deploy," Capdepon said.

The last North Carolina-based MEU to deploy also went through just three at-sea periods. The 24th MEU canceled its last at-sea training when commanders learned the unit would deploy to Afghanistan, traveling by air.

The 26th MEU still plans to deploy by sea in the early fall, and no specific destination has been announced.

During the predeployment training period, Marines with II Marine Expeditionary Force Special Operations Training Group give the MEU situations, and they must take action. The training exercises test the unit's ability to carry out various types of missions. Some included conducting a raid, recovering a downed unmanned aerial vehicle and dealing with a mass casualty situation.

"They have to learn to operate within the constraints of the ship's capabilities," said Maj. Ron Jones, operations officer for II MEF SOTG. "If they don't do it now, they will have to figure it out later."

Marines with the special operations training group observe the training and evaluate the MEU over the six-month period to determine if the unit can be certified "special operations capable."

During the 26th MEU's urban training exercise in Indiana, the Marines were tested with a real-life humanitarian aid mission. The MEU was called into action when heavy floods threatened levees in Elnora, Ind. Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2/6 filled and laid sandbags to protect the community from the rising water.

The 26th MEU also faced a challenge other MEUs have not encountered - the commanding officer and the sergeant major both changed during the training cycle. But Col. Mark Desens, the current commanding officer, said the transition has gone smoothly.

"We're in really good shape," Desens said. "I think we're ready."