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Lt. Col. Jason Holden, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 commanding officer, listens to a brief during a simulated exercise as part of the staff planning course for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron Five here Jan. 24. The two-weeklong training evolution focused senior leaders on the rapid response planning process, or R2P2, and developed skills pivotal to planning the missions anticipated during their future deployment.

Photo by Sgt. Melissa Wenger

Trial by fire: 11th MEU leaders train like they fight

31 Jan 2014 | Sgt. Melissa Wenger 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Throughout history, Marine Expeditionary Units have proven to be a flexible force capable of quickly responding to contingencies around the globe. What comes between the call to duty and boots on the ground[CW1]  is the rapid response planning process, or R2P2.  

Leaders from the 11th MEU and their counterparts at Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) Five trained at the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Pacific’s Joint Expeditionary Warfare Laboratory aboard Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Calif. Those Marines and Sailors received a refresher on the specifics of expeditionary warfare.  

“It’s a valuable thing now because the Marines are shifting back to an amphibious mindset, whereas we’ve been in Afghanistan and Iraq so long, many officers have lost that amphibious mindset,” said Maj. Christopher Blalock, the staff planning course manager at EWTGPAC. “It’s about the ability to receive an order and prepare to execute that order within a 6-hour time window. That’s the essence of R2P2.”  

The course offered the Amphibious Ready Group/MEU staff its first chance to physically unite and work toward a goal.  

“It gave us an opportunity to build upon the relations we have with our respective staff counterparts,” said Col. Matt Trollinger, 11th MEU commanding officer. “We’re together and figuring out how we’re going to do business to best set the conditions for our success. It’s a great first opportunity as we set out on our pre-deployment program.”  

While working under strict time constraints and with limited resources, the leaders had the added pressure of discovering a path to the integration of their respective capabilities.

“Along with it being a benefit that we’re here together, I think the challenge was that this was the first time that we’ve gotten to be around each other,” said Lt. Wendy Ng, Amphibious Squadron Five operations officer. “[We’re] just learning each other’s processes and … what the blue can provide to the green and the green can provide to the blue.”  

The planning course exploited every opportunity to for training to be as realistic as possible.  The ARG/MEU team executed their rapid response planning process to crises taking place in the particular region the deployment will take them.  

“Everything we gave them is a mission that is absolutely within the realm of the possible when they get there,” said Blalock. “Every one of these missions is a real-world mission that has happened at one time or another, so it puts them in the area and it’s the only time throughout the work-up where they actually get to experience that.”  

This gave planners a practical way to develop their battle rhythm by taking a fine-tooth comb to their standard operating procedures to work out any points of friction met during R2P2.

“Certainly, we will refine our SOP’s on the blue side and make sure the ships are ready with their standard procedures to play the role to support the Marines that are being embarked on them individually," said Ng. "We’ll continue to refine our products and our planning process so that the mission planning cell members become standard, the products become standard … and so when the order comes, we’ll be ready to react and be in sync with the MEU.”  

Ng believes the course helped her look closely at all areas of executing the task at hand and then honed her presentations to be understood by a wider audience.

“The brief is really for the executors who will be out in the field or out on the ships or on the crafts, and [to brief to] that level of understanding was a lesson learned here," she said. "Yes, there may be minor details, but they are details that are going to be important to the executors.  It’s a lesson learned here for planners to understand that it’s not just about the big picture.”  

The 11th MEU, partnered with PHIBRON 5, is scheduled to deploy later this summer.     

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