MSSG-11 practices helping, securing

2 Apr 2004 | 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Screams for food and water in Arabic accents, rival clans fighting over territory in a small village, and suspected terrorists nabbed for information sounds like the real deal in support of current operations in Iraq, but it happened here March 31 through April 2.

Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 11 (MSSG-11) conducted a humanitarian assistance operation and reacted to a mass casualty drill during the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's first at-sea exercise called Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise or ESGEX, March 23 through April 3.  ESGEX is part of the 11th MEU's six-month workup cycle in preparation for their final exercise to become special operations capable qualified.

This was MSSG-11's second HAO and mass casualty drill since joining the 11th MEU according to Staff Sgt. J.C. Baumer, engineer detachment platoon sergeant, MSSG-11, they're confident in their abilities.

"We got this down to a T now, it's just adjusting for terrain and civilian population," he said.

However, this was their first time coming from ship to shore and that presented different challenges.

"It was a big challenge getting off ship and manifesting everything," said Capt. Joseph M. Garaux, transportation and support detachment commander, MSSG-11.

The unit arrived outside 25 Area Combat Town, pretending it was a town in the Middle East, and set up for humanitarian aid. They processed Marines posing as locals needing assistance, but trouble started when the two village clans began to clash.

Baton against shield pounded a rhythm worthy of war drums as Marines from the non-lethal platoon, Battery R, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, marched into the fiasco.

"As soon as they heard the pounding, they were like ..." said Sgt. Jorge L. Velasquez, showing a startled, frightened look.

The non-lethal platoon sergeant attributed the villagers' reaction to the pounding as a "real thundering presence."

Besides riot control, Marines and sailors were forced to exercise their problem solving skills in several situations.

"There was one circumstance where the villagers needed a doctor to help a pregnant woman deliver a baby, but they didn't want the Marines to carry rifles into the city," Garaux said. "So, we had to equip the Marines with pistols to escort the doctor and help the deliver the baby."

The morning of April 2, Marines and sailors awoke to an improvised explosive device going off and creating mass casualties. Even with the many hospital corpsmen and doctors on the scene, there were more critical injuries than they could handle so they called in a CH-53E "Super Stallion" helicopter to evacuate the injured from the scene. Within an hour all the "wounded" were back on the USS Belleau Wood, receiving medical attention. 

Garaux stressed the difficulty presented and how his Marines were forced on numerous occasions to improvise.

"This is a very nontraditional Marine Corps exercise," he said about how the mission was different from the perceived idea of Marines on the attack. "It was a big coordinating issue getting everyone together."

Marine Corps News

Colonel Thomas M. Siverts
Commanding Officer

Colonel Tom Siverts is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1989. He achieved a commission as a Second Lieutenant through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program following his graduation from the University of Virginia in May 1999. Colonel Siverts has deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and ENDURING FREEDOM. His other operational deployments include serving with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/8, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU); BLT 3/8, 22d MEU; BLT 2/8, 26th MEU, and Task Force 61/2.

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Lieutenant Col. Steven M. Sprigg
Executive Officer

LtCol Sprigg was born in Parkersburg, WV. LtCol Sprigg enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in September 2004 and recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC. LtCol Sprigg was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in March 2008. He was designated a Naval Aviator in February 2011 and reported to HMLAT-303 for training as an AH-1W pilot. LtCol Sprigg is currently serving as the Executive Officer for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Camp Pendleton, California.

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Sergeant Major Travis L. DeBarr
Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major DeBarr enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to MCRD San Diego, CA, for recruit training in October 1994.Staff Sergeant DeBarr completed two combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from September 2005 to April 2006 and again form March 2007 to September 2007. While serving with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, First Sergeant DeBarr completed one combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from October 2012 to May 2013. Sergeant Major DeBarr currently serves as the Sergeant Major for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

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11th Marine Expeditionary Unit