CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Marines of 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, commanded by Col. Charles S. Patton, took a step toward warfighting preparedness Nov. 9, after completing its first at-sea training event, the Comprehensive Training While Underway Exercise, in preparation for a six-month deployment to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf Regions next year.
During the two-week event, Marines boarded the three ships of Amphibious Squadron 7 and conducted missions in preparation for their Special Operations Capable certification. A Humanitarian Assistance Operation was among the list and was conducted Nov. 4, at the 25 Area Combat Town here.
During this training exercise, "we hoped to accomplish the successful integration of (Battalion Landing Team 2/1's) security element and MEU Service Support Group 11," Capt. Mimi Cottrell, HAO site commander, said. "This was the first time all the elements came together to train. It was a learning experience."
The MEU's Major Supporting Elements, BLT 2/1, MSSG-11, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 (reinforced) along with the 11th MEU Command Element, worked together previously, but COMPTUEX marked the first time the units operated from the sea.
The exercise was an opportunity for Marines to familiarize themselves with living aboard ship, conducting ship to shore operations, and MSE roles during missions like the HAO, according to Cottrell.
The HAO brought together Marines from A Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion; R Battery, 5th Bn., 11th Marine Regiment; MEU Service Support Group 11; and several communications and intelligence specialists from the MEU Command Element. The HAO force also called for helicopter support from HMM-268 (reinforced).
"It was hectic," said Sgt. Armand Rupert, Command Element. "Initially, there were communication problems. The (role players) hit us with a lot of unexpected stuff, but we tightened up at the end."
The training scenario involved Arabic speaking residents of the Punjar village who contracted dysentery and cholera from the local water supply. The HAO team arrived to provide medical assistance, food, and water but faced interference from an opposing force.
A group of terrorists infiltrated the village determined to undermine the MEU's humanitarian efforts. Several terrorists posed as villagers to incite riots and thwart the HAO mission.
Intelligence specialists quickly identified the mayor and his assistant, and requested their support to identify members of the terrorist group. Security patrols at the humanitarian site produced suspects, and interrogator translators took measures to isolate and interview those believed to be terrorists.
As a result of interrogation efforts, Marines learned about possible minefields, arrested other terrorist personnel and were able to provide a secure environment for the HAO force.
"This HAO was organized and went very well," Sgt. Brian Williams, platoon sergeant, Motor Transportation Plt., Transportation Support Detachment, MSSG-11, said. "The way it was done put the villagers at ease."
While the Security Element kept threats at bay, the Health Services and Transportation Support Detachments processed malnourished and ailing villagers.
Williams manned a processing station where villagers were issued color-coded wristbands for identification. The colors were used to separate males and females and identify married individuals and parents, according to Williams. The HAO team categorized people with similar needs to streamline the humanitarian process.
"It's hard to keep track of patients when you don't speak the language," explained Navy Hospitalman Andrew Firmalino, HSD, MSSG-11. "Arm bands were used to separate the people into groups, and we used translators to investigate their illnesses."
A group of 40 role players were on hand during the exercise, but the team was prepared for three times that amount. The villagers were treated quickly and the integration of units was a success, according to Cottrell.
The training event ended when the MSSG-11 Commanding Officer LtCol. Stanley J. Jozwiak addressed a formation of Marines from the HAO team.
"You've done a good job during the HAO," he said. "Now start thinking about (upcoming workups). We may be called on to perform all kinds of Humanitarian missions (in the future). Think through what we need to do, and what we don't need to do."