FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. --
The Marines and sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit completed two weeks of land-based predeployment training at Fort Hunter Liggett and nearby Camp Roberts, Calif., March 28.
Realistic Urban Training Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise 14-1 was the first large-scale opportunity for integration between the ground combat element, aviation combat element, logistics combat element and command element of the 11th MEU. The training placed its participants in environments similar to those they’ll encounter during their upcoming deployment later this summer.
Over the course of the training evolution, each of the major subordinate elements of the MEU honed both their support and supported relationships. Together, they coordinated the planning and execution of a range of military operations, including raids, evacuations, site exploitations and other tactical operations pertaining to their upcoming deployment.
According to Lt. Col. Michael Estes, operations officer, command element, 11th MEU, training during RUTMEUEX applied every function of the Marine Air Ground Task Force by running through full mission profiles from the start of planning through recovering the force from the objective, incorporating each of the MEU’s assets.
“Basically, we were able to take the entire organization that we call the Marine Air Ground Task Force and run it through its entire functionality,” said Estes. “The interoperability with all three of those elements as well as the command element, which does the command and control of those subordinate units through these mission profiles, is designed to get us ready to then move on to our next stage of training.”
The majority of the unit traveled more than 350 miles to Fort Hunter Liggett and surrounding training areas before stepping off on its first joint training mission.
“Prior to compositing, the MEU had less than 100 personnel,” said Gunnery Sgt. Micheal Travers, administrative chief, 11th MEU. “After the composite, that number shot up to more than 2,500 as we administratively joined each MSE to the MEU command element. Accounting for and moving a unit of that size is something that takes accurate and deliberate planning.”
For the 11th MEU’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, leaving their comfort zone proved exceptionally advantageous from a training standpoint.
“You’re comfortable in Pendleton. You know it, you know where the Marine Corps exchange is, you know home is right around the corner and you know that cell phone connectivity works,” said Maj. Robert Christafore, Jr., operations officer, BLT 2/1. “The terrain out here is somewhat better and more challenging for the infantry battalion and elements of the BLT. Anytime we go somewhere we’re not completely comfortable with, it’s always better. The Marines are more focused too because they’re not worried about everything that goes on back at the home station.”
When it comes to live operations, practice, especially in a new environment, makes perfect.
“I think that any time you get to perform the full mission profile MEU tasks, whether it’s from a ship or land-based, you can’t get enough repetitions of that,” said Christafore. “It’s all about the reps of raids, airfield seizures, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, reconnaissance and surveillance, etcetera. The more reps we get from that, the more efficient and effective we’ll be once we’re on ship and should the call come once we’re deployed.”
The battalion was able to continue training where they left off back in Camp Pendleton, Calif., only now in an unfamiliar environment and alongside the other MSEs of the MEU.
“We can’t do our MEU mission sets unless we are good at our core competencies, and I think we were able to come up here and continue to build upon a year’s worth of the training and exercise employment plan in offensive operations, defensive operations and some stability operations,” said Christafore. “When we’re good at that stuff we’ll be that [much] more successful when we’re doing the MEU-specific events.”
The 11th MEU’s logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion 11, also put into practice skills and tasks in support of its counterparts during this training evolution.
“Primarily, our support for RUT has been focused on our shock-trauma platoon and that medical capability that we provide, and our EOD teams [that] have been embedded with the [Maritime Raid Force],” said Capt. Melina Mesta, operations officer, CLB-11. “For MEUEX, we’re supporting the entire MAGTF and providing all the functions of logistics, so that includes transportation support, supply, maintenance, general engineering, which run the gamut of everything … to support all the needs that the MAGTF has.”
Part of incorporating attachments, such as motor transport, air delivery, and combat engineer platoons, meant the logistics combat element had to synchronize with adjacent elements as quickly as possible during RUTMEUEX.
“It’s an awesome learning experience because we’re used to operating as a battalion and have become pretty good at working with each other, but now we’re integrating with another staff and elements of a MAGTF, and it’s completely new to us,” said Mesta. “We’re working through and troubleshooting those initial growing pains that come with the compositing of a new unit.”
Just like the BLT and CLB, the 11th MEU’s aviation element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (reinforced), had to learn to incorporate new elements of the squadron. They were simultaneously solidifying internal bonds while learning to work alongside the other MSEs.
“We’re working with other units we haven’t worked with before,” said Lance Cpl. Cortney Pogue, assistant operations chief, VMM-163 and a Troy, Ohio native. “The CH-53E’s, the Hueys and Cobras, they’re all different units who’ve come together, and some of them have been with us less than a month, so we’re trying to create all the cohesion in little to no time.”
Despite the relative short period working as a reinforced squadron, VMM-163 upped its flight hours and bolstered their maintenance schedule to meet the high-intensity training requirements during RUTMEUEX.
“This is exactly what it’s supposed to be like: not knowing where we’re going or what we’re going to be doing,” said Pogue. “When we are actually on the boat, we will get warning orders just like we do here. We have to be able to take off and be prepared, be fueled, and have the right people on the right planes.”
The aviation element received an equal opportunity to complete mission essential tasks in this joint endeavor with the other elements.
“When we land out there on the airfield it’s like we’re trying to land on the boat, because the space is limited and that’s what we’re simulating,” said Pogue. “Also, when we get warning orders from the command element, we plan them as quickly as possible whether we’re taking Marines somewhere and providing ordnance or doing emergency pickups. Everything we did here is exactly like how we would do it on deployment.”
RUTMEUEX is the last major ground-based training event in the MEU’s predeployment training agenda. The subsequent event on the way to deployment for the 11th MEU is Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON)-MEU Integrated Training.
“Next, we’ll bring this ground- and aviation-centric unit onto an amphibious ready group and work together with them to be able to do the same things we’re doing now from naval shipping,” said Estes. “That’s all going to set the conditions we need to be prepared to forward deploy around the world wherever we’re needed as America’s 911 force to be able to project power from the sea, influence the environment, and meet the geographical commander’s needs from what he would ask the Navy and Marine Corps team to do for him.”
Partnered with PHIBRON 5, the 11th MEU is scheduled to deploy later this summer.