USS BELLEAU WOOD -- Family and friends watch anxiously as warriors with packed bags board warships docked in San Diego. After emotional goodbyes and hugs, the reality of today's deployment brings with it the outlook of a long separation.
The more than 2,200 members from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) left their homes, family and friends June 15, beginning a routine six-month deployment to the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf regions aboard the USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3), USS Denver (LPD-9) and the USS Mount Vernon (LSD-39).
Following an intense six-month pre-deployment exercise cycle in which Battalion Landing Team 3/1, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (reinforced), MEU Service Support Group 11 and the 11th MEU Command Element trained together, the 11th MEU received their Special Operations Capable certification last month from I Marine Expeditionary Force.
This SOC certification means the 11th MEU is ready to execute more than 20 types of military operations ranging from amphibious assaults and raids to noncombatant evacuations and humanitarian assistance operations in the Pacific Command and Central Command regions. This ability to rapidly respond to a wide array of crises has validated the relevancy of the MEU and created its frequent use in past years by geographic combatant commanders in places such as East Timor, Eritrea, Kosovo and Somalia. Now during Operation Enduring Freedom, MEUs continue to quickly respond when called upon as Marines from the 15th MEU did as the first conventional force to go ashore in Afghanistan.
Prior to the departure of the 11th MEU (SOC) June 15, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones, spoke words of encouragement to the Marines and Sailors aboard the three warships of the Belleau Wood Amphibious Ready Group.
"You are going into a world that is full of challenge... You are the most ready force the Navy and Marine Corps has to offer... You will do well, there is no doubt," Gen. Jones said.
During his speech Gen. Jones expressed the importance of the Navy and Marine Corps team being the ultimate expression of national response during times of uncertainty and conflict around the world.
"We should consider ourselves at war and I think it is appropriate to say good hunting," Gen. Jones said.
If called upon to participate in real-world missions, Col. Anthony M. Haslam, commanding officer, 11th MEU (SOC), has no hesitations that his Marines and Sailors are prepared for any situation that may arise.
"These Marines and Sailors are well-trained and ready for any mission that we could be ordered by higher headquarters to support while forward deployed," Haslam said. "I am very pleased with the amount of effort, teamwork and dedication everyone has put into our preparation to deploy."
With the training and certification complete, Marines and Sailors are looking forward to the challenges of the deployment. For some, saying goodbye to loved ones is just one of the costs that come with our continual defense of democracy, freedom and humanity around the globe.
"Deploying is just another part of being a Marine, and leaving friends and family behind is just one price we have to pay," said Cpl. Brian A. Price, classified material control clerk, Command Element, 11th MEU (SOC).
Price, a Wenatchee, Wash. native, is on his second deployment with the 11th MEU (SOC), and said he is looking forward to the possibility of having an active role in current or future military operations.
While deployed, the Marines and Sailors of the 11th MEU (SOC) are scheduled to conduct various training exercises while staying prepared to respond to any contingency if ordered by higher headquarters. The 11th MEU (SOC) is scheduled to return to Southern California in December.