CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Marines and sailors with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 5 completed two weeks of sea-based predeployment training off the coast of San Diego, April 18.
PHIBRON Marine Expeditionary Unit Integration Training was the first full-scale at-sea event in the 11th MEU's predeployment cycle. The training allowed the MEU, alongside their Navy counterparts, to work through various missions while embarked on three separate ships. During this time, they conducted amphibious operations and responded to various simulated crises.
"This was an excellent first opportunity to integrate with the Navy and bring together our core competencies in the accomplishment of the many missions we may be called upon to conduct,” said 11th MEU Commanding Officer Col. Matthew Trollinger. “We are learning as individuals and as a collective unit, and I am confident our progression is on track."
During the training, Marines and sailors conducted sea-based exercises to build cohesion between the MEU and PHIBRON 5. They simulated visit, board, search, and seizures, airfield seizures, raids on hostile positions, embassy reinforcement, small craft action team rehearsal drills, and many other mission-essential evolutions throughout the two-week period to mimic combat conditions that could be encountered during the MEU's scheduled deployment this summer.
According to Capt. Jonathan Schillo, executive officer of the 11th MEU's Reconnaissance Company, working with the Navy while executing their missions was successful and allowed for a better understanding of the PHIBRON and MEU capabilities.
"The syncing efforts with us and the blue side were surprisingly smooth for it being the first time we have [worked] together," said Schillo. "The Navy seemed excited to work with us; the command climate was great and overall it was rewarding for both of us."
Though the blue-green team trained efficiently, the challenges of coordinating efforts between three ships, the USS Makin Island, San Diego, and Comstock, provide an opportunity to improve with each upcoming training period.
From the USS San Diego, 11th MEU Executive Officer Lt. Col. Eddy Hansen highlighted the challenges, "Communication is the key here. This is the first time this MEU has been split three different ways and the command element two ways. We have to continue to meet our objectives even though we are on different ships, and that's something we can improve on."
Maj. Chris Rozsypal, detachment officer-in-charge of all Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced) personnel aboard the USS San Diego, and executive officer of troops, also emphasized the importance of planning and communication.
"The MEU and the Amphibious Ready Group have to talk to each other so we can all be more combat effective," said Rozsypal. "Our job as the aviation combat element is to provide air support in all these different missions that demand different things from us. Communicating those needs helps us to support the MEU to the maximum extent possible."
For each MEU task, the planning involved is very detailed so aircraft can be ready at the exact time needed, according to Rozsypal. That extra minute during which support is not provided can be the difference between life and death.
While training for the scheduled deployment, Marines and sailors were given the opportunity to live among their Navy brothers and sisters, getting a taste of life on a ship. It took compliance on both ends to make the merger run smoothly.
"This is a great event for us because it gives us a good foundation," said Navy Capt. Carl Meuser, executive officer of the USS San Diego. "On our side of things, we need to make sure there is enough food, fresh water, and anything else we will need to support the MEU while we are out there. The first time you do anything or plan anything, it's going to be slower than usual, but we will get the operations down, especially with the amount of enthusiasm that has been shown so far."
The Navy’s rank structure, vocabulary, and shipboard procedures are a few things the majority of Marines encountered for the first time. With many Marines experiencing ship life for the first time, and the sailors and crew adjusting to a significant increase in personnel, cooperation is essential to make living experiences positive.
“Living conditions here are a lot different from barracks life. It’s definitely a lot tighter and you’re pretty much right on top of your rack mates,” said Lance Cpl. Edgardo Melendez, an embarkation specialist with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 and a Los Angeles native. “It’s a little hard to get used to [getting around] because it’s sort of like a maze, but as time goes by it becomes muscle memory. This is my first deployment and it’s all very new to me, but it’s something over time I’ll just have to get used to.
PMINT serves as a learning experience for all elements of the MEU and ARG. The next sea trial will be an opportunity to take the lessons learned from PMINT and apply them.
"The ship is a dangerous place for a lot of reasons," said Rozsypal. "It's good that we make mistakes now early, before it really matters later."
With the first at-sea period complete, it brings the 11th MEU and PHIBRON 5 team that much closer to deployment.
"I'm looking forward to this deployment," said Meuser. "I think as long as we cooperate with each other and make the right adjustments, we will definitely be successful."
PMINT is the first shipboard event the MEU will conduct as part of their predeployment training program. The MEU will deploy with the Makin Island ARG this summer aboard the USS Makin Island, USS San Diego and the USS Comstock.