ABOARD THE USS BELLEAU WOOD -- The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned Wednesday from its second period at sea with its “Special Operations Capable” certification, a month ahead of schedule.
The at-sea periods, part of the MEU’s regular workup cycle in preparation for their upcoming deployment, are usually divided into three different exercises. They start with the Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise -- the crawling stage -- then the Composite Training Underway Exercise – walking stage – culminating with the Special Operations Capable Exercise – the running stage when the MEU is tested by I Marine Expeditionary Force’s Tactical Exercise Control Group in it’s ability to conduct the 23 missions required of a “Special Operations Capable” MEU.
However, after ESGEX, the MEU was already moving at a brisk pace. Thus, the MEU underwent its SOC qualification during COMPTUEX, nearly a month early.
“Due to potential modifications in the deployment schedule, the decision was made to conduct the SOC certification during the second at sea period,” said Lt. Col. Eugene N. Apicella, 11th MEU’s executive officer.
Apicella also attributed the early SOC qualification to the unit’s “advance level of readiness.”
The exercise consisted of several amphibious destructive raids – including a live-fire long-range helicopter raid with close air support, an embassy reinforcement, a noncombatant evacuation operation, a humanitarian assistance operation, a non-compliant ship takedown, and several other missions unique to a MEU.
“Units are not normally ready to take on that challenge,” Apicella said about being evaluated during COMPTUEX nearly a month before the scheduled SOCEX.
Lieutenant Col. Brian Gorski, a TECG evaluator, spoke nothing but praise for the MEU’s ability to perform during the unexpected challenge.
“Basically for these guys to react as they did was super,” he said. “They did not falter under pressure.”
Apicella also commended the unit’s performance.
“It’s a tribute to the hard work of the Marines and sailors to be able to do this as early as they did,” he said. “There’s no doubt, any unit that can be ready to conduct a SOC certification a good month before they are slated too can take great pride in their accomplishment.”
One Marine also attributed the unit’s performance to previous real world experience.
“We have a lot of veterans from Iraq in our company,” said Cpl. Tommy M. Aguero, radio operator for Company C., Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th MEU. “So everything went really well, we’re just locked on like that.”
The MEU’s commanding officer, Col. Anthony M. Haslam, is certain the MEU will continue to perform at this level even during deployment.
“The Marines and sailors of the 11th MEU gave a 110% effort during this intense, rigorous workup cycle. We pushed the envelope and trained to the highest caliber, and the hard work paid off,” Haslam said. “I am fully confident in the MEU's ability to meet any mission we're tasked with. We're ready to go.”