CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit began its deployment cycle here May 2 by assuming operational control of the elements that make it a complete Marine air-ground task force.
The unit’s major subordinate elements become – with all their attachments – Battalion Landing Team 3/1, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 (Reinforced) and Combat Logistics Battalion 11, the ground, aviation and logistics elements respectively.
"Our leaders at all levels are engaged, focused, and embrace the responsibility that comes with deploying as a MEU," said Sgt. Maj. Scott T. Pile, 11th MEU sergeant major.
One of seven of its kind in the world, the unit has begun training to deploy later this year as a flexible, combined-arms, seagoing force that can conduct the Marine Corps' full range of operations, from disaster relief to combat.
"As a MEU, training both during pre-deployment workups and while underway will remain a continual focus to place us in a position to be the most ready when we are tasked to execute our assigned mission," said Pile.
Teaming up with the Navy’s Amphibious Squadron 5, the MEU is scheduled to deploy aboard three ships: USS Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship; USS New Orleans, an amphibious transport dock, and USS Pearl Harbor, an amphibious dock landing ship. The squadron aboard these ships forms the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, the “blue-side” partner to the MEU’s “green side.”
"The blue-green partnership is the key to a successful deployment," said Col. Michael R. Hudson, 11th MEU commanding officer. “A forward-deployed and fully integrated (Amphibious Squadron 5) and (Marine air-ground task force) team provides our leadership with solutions to problems and the ability to exploit opportunities in real time.”
Hudson, who is supported by a sergeant major and a staff, is at the helm of the MEU and its command element, whose approximately 200 Marines and sailors provide leadership, planning and communications for the entire force of 2,200 service members.
Training the MEU will include several land-based exercises and specialized courses, but to prepare for amphibious operations, the unit has scheduled three at-sea periods wherein the Marine Corps and Navy staffs integrate and learn to operate successfully together. This blue-green team synchronizes by perfecting a rapid-response planning process, the MEU’s baseline for planning and executing missions.
The planning process is tested during several day and night training raids, facilitated by helicopters and landing craft operating from the flight and well decks of the three amphibious ships.
Pile said the major subordinate elements come “well trained, enthusiastic, and committed to our responsibility of deploying" as a MEU.
“The strength of the (Marine air-ground task force) comes from harnessing the power of each element as one team focused on the mission assigned,” Pile said.
The ground-combat element comes from 1st Marine Regiment and attachments from 1st Marine Division; the aviation-combat element comes from Marine Aircraft Group 39 and attachments from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and the logistics-combat element comes from Combat Logistics Regiment 17.
Parent commands of these elements have handed operational control and Department of Defense readiness-reporting responsibilities to the 11th MEU commander until 30 days after the unit’s deployment.
BATTALION LANDING TEAM 3/1
The battalion landing team, a standard MEU ground-combat element, is an infantry battalion reinforced by an artillery battery, amphibious-assault vehicles, combat engineers, reconnaissance, tanks and light-armored reconnaissance vehicles.
The GCE’s central component is its infantry battalion, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, aka the Thundering Third. Based here, the battalion consists of approximately 1,200 Marines and sailors.
The battalion returned in November, 2010, after a seven-month deployment conducting counterinsurgency operations in the southern Afghanistan district of Garmsir.
The GCE’s units come from Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms, Calif., and its training program will prepare Marines to conduct land-based, amphibious and maritime operations, including offensive, defensive, reconnaissance and security operations.
MARINE MEDIUM HELICOPTER SQUADRON 268 (REINFORCED)
Called the Red Dragons, the 11th MEU’s aviation-combat element, or ACE, is a reinforced CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter squadron based at Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton. It consists of about 350 Marines and sailors, and its detachments from various Southern California and Arizona units bring CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters and AV-8B Harrier jets. Moreover, KC-130 transport planes are on standby ashore to support the unit when needed.
The ACE brings to the 11th MEU the Corps’ upgraded AH-1Z Super Cobra assault helicopter and UH-1Y utility helicopter, known as the Yankee/Zulu package. The four-bladed airframes fly distinctively different missions, but their commonality of engine parts and flight operation make for streamlined cost, training and maintenance.
To operate, maintain and defend its assets, the ACE has air-traffic control, air defense, aircraft maintenance and supply personnel.
COMBAT LOGISTICS BATTALION 11
The logistics-combat element, or LCE, consists of approximately 300 Marines and sailors and provides combat support, including supply, maintenance, transportation, explosive ordnance disposal, military police, water production and distribution, engineering, medical and dental services and fuel storage and distribution. The LCE gives the 11th MEU the ability to support itself for 15 days in any environment.
"The Marines of the MEU understand that though we are deploying into uncertain times,” Pile said, “they are certain that we will have trained hard in preparation for our deployment.”
Follow the 11th MEU on Twitter @11thmeu.