ABOARD THE USS BELLEAU WOOD -- ABOARD THE USS BELLEAU WOOD -- The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) departed May 27 from 32nd Street Naval Station San Diego nearly a month earlier than the scheduled deployment in response to a request from U.S. Central Command for more forces in Iraq.
Before this request, the MEU was scheduled to conduct a typical MEU deployment, serving as a crisis response unit in the U.S. Central and Pacific Commands areas of operation -- a mission for which MEUs are renowned. Now that 11th MEU Marines know they are headed for Iraq in support of stability and security operations, they have no doubt they are ready for the task.
"The Marines and sailors of the MEU are really positive. More than 50 percent of them are returning varsity so they've been there before," said Col. A.M. Haslam, commanding officer, 11th MEU.
The veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom say they feel more secure going back this second time.
"We're definitely more confident now than before," said Pfc. Cody D. Finch, a mortarman with Weapons Platoon, Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. "Everyone's already used to it and knows what they're expected to do."
Although the MEU departed early, that didn't prevent them from finishing their normal training period. In the shortened cycle -- 4 1/2 months vice 6 months -- the MEU obtained their SOC qualification, a feat that shows their readiness and confidence.
Haslam feels this adaptation will help them in the myriad of possible missions they could face.
"What's great about the MEU (SOC) cycle is that we are trained to rapidly plan and execute missions, and to work in a fluid environment where things are constantly changing. It's important to be able to adapt and quickly change your plan," Haslam said. "While the details of our mission are currently being refined, we'll be ready to go. We'll make it happen."
The MEU began their scheduled training in January, practicing for a normal deployment to the Western Pacific and Middle East regions with the Belleau Wood Expeditionary Strike Group. Now with a known mission and location, the MEU tailored their equipment to meet new needs.
The MEU has brought enough High Mobility Multi-wheeled Vehicles and Motor Transportation Vehicle Replacement 7-ton trucks to support the BLT on the ground. All these vehicles have been outfitted with extra armor as well.
But even with all the preparations and confidence of the individual Marines, that doesn't stop the loved ones left behind from worrying.
"I don't want him to go, I'm going to pray for him every moment," said Vivian Lee, 23-year-old fiancee of a departing BLT Marine. "But I know what he has to go do."
The Marines of the 11th MEU are confident in their experience and training to get the job done.
"The deployment will be easier this time because you know from experience what you and everyone around you can do," Finch said with a calm assuredness.