MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Not far from the coast of Del Mar beach, the Marines and sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group 3 were preparing to do what they have done countless of times throughout their history, come to the aid of those in need by conducting a humanitarian assistance operation during a training exercise here, Nov. 9.
Within hours of getting the order to respond to the humanitarian crisis, the mission commander launched the Initial Response Team, a specialized team from the MEU Service Support Group 11, Camp Pendleton, composed of security, communications, medical, motor transport, utilities and other support personnel. Their mission was to provide initial aid to those in need as well as ground intelligence to the mission and HAO commander.
MSSG-11, along with the ground and air combat elements of the 11th MEU are conducting training exercises aboard the U.S. S. Peleliu in preparation for their upcoming deployment early next year.
As they departed the ship aboard Landing Craft Utilities to the objective, the IRT had only maps and good intelligence about the conditions on the ground. They also knew that the situation was critical. During the exercise insurgent violence had left thousands homeless and the local village in shambles. Food, water and medical attention were in very short supply and the security environment, although believed to be stable, was anything but secure.
Once on shore, the Marines and sailors quickly set out to accomplish their individual missions. The security element fanned out and set up a security perimeter while other team members offloaded.
Communications Marines moved quickly to establish communications with the Mission and HAO commander. "We need to be able to relay to the commander all of the intelligence that we gather as quickly as possible," said Sgt. Denver E. Dale, radio operator, after having established positive communications.
IRT Commander Chief Warrant Officer Elizabeth R. Butler, studied her maps and conferred with her security and mission planning team to find the best and safest route possible to the village and to locate the most suitable site in which to set up the Initial Support Base also known as a Forward Operating Base. The FOB will later be used to resupply the HAO site, said Butler.
According to Butler, although the team was armed with good intelligence; a mission like this is always fraught with unknowns. Some unknowns are elevation, terrain, and vegetation. "On the map I may see vegetation or a stand of trees, and we get out here and see the terrain has changed because of climate changes, natural disasters or other factors," said Butler. Elevation is also hard to tell on some maps, and when you add the rain to the mix, you get steep and slick muddy roads that would make driving fully loaded supply trucks very dangerous, said Butler. As they conducted their reconnaissance, the team came across washed out roads that they reported to mission planners. This allowed them to change their route plans and avoid logistical problems and possible vehicle accidents.
"We are the ground truth, the eyes and ears for the HAO force," said Butler. "Our job is to let them know what to expect when they get out here," she said.
While at the HAO site HM2 Rosemary Pagan, preventive medicine technician, from Fresno, Calif., assessed the area to identify any diseases and environmental factors that could potentially harm Marines or the local populace. She tested the quality of the local food and water and provided basic medical assistance to Marines and locals.
Near the end of the first part of mock mission, most in the IRT agreed that it went off without a hitch, given the complexities and background of the scenario. The security personnel were much more guarded with their optimism. Most had served at least one tour in Iraq and some have served two.