Strike group trains together for first time

3 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Matthew S. Richards 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, part of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, returned from its first ever Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise April 3.

The ESGEX, replacing Fleet Exercise, consists of everything the Marines and sailors will do during their upcoming Special Operations Capable Exercise, the final test to become special operations capable qualified, in May. The evaluation will include mechanized and boat amphibious destructive raids, humanitarian assistance operations, direct action hits, and other missions that the MEU could be called upon to do during deployment.

“This exercise indicates everything we have to become more proficient in before we board the ship for deployment,” said Capt. Jack A. Sile, assistant intelligence officer for the Command Element, 11th MEU.

First Lt. Brian P. Wierman, Maritime Special Purpose Force security element commander, thought the exercise helped work out the kinks that are normal to a new unit operating together.

“Because of ESGEX we were able to identify the friction in the planning process,” he said. “It was a refinement of the SOP’s (standard operating procedures) and how the missions in general operate.”

Every mission done in the exercise had been done by the MEU in previous weeks, but this was the first time the entire strike group got together and did it as a team.

"Up to this point, we have focused on perfecting and refining how we plan for missions," explained Col. Anthony M. Haslam, commanding officer, 11th MEU.  "ESGEX brings us to a new level -- fine tuning how we conduct these missions on the ground to ensure success."

Expeditionary Strike Group 3, a seven-ship flotilla led by the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood, is the first in the entire Navy and Marine Corps to be commanded by a Marine General, Brig. Gen. Joseph V. Medina. The ESG consists of more than 5,000 Marines and sailors from Southern California and Hawaii, and includes three amphibious assault ships, one cruiser, two destroyers, and one submarine.

The exercise put the MEU and the three amphibious assault ships deployed in support of operations in the Middle East, and the strike group's other ships worked in a separate scenario operating off the Arabian Sea to thwart rogue elements from foreign navies. 

The variety of missions in the exercise ranged from several amphibious destructive raids to a humanitarian assistance operation to a vessel boarding search and seizure operation.

“Even during the war we didn’t have this kind of op tempo,” Sile said about the number of missions packed into a short amount of time.

Wierman thought his Marines were able keep up and learn from the experience even with the fast-paced schedule.

“Everybody, at all ranks, got the chance to be exposed to the planning process,” he said. “It was a good learning experience.”

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