ABOARD USS TARAWA -- Like mighty ants recovering from a rainstorm, Marines and Sailors scurried about in the bowels of USS Tarawa, staging gear, packing office spaces and nestling into berthing spaces in preparation for their first at-sea period.
Members of the 13th MEU spent five days packing everything from amphibious vehicles to their shower shoes aboard ships of the Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group for Composite Training Unit Exercise 00-2, which took place April 10-21.
The ARG ships include USS Tarawa (LHA-1), USS Duluth (LPD-6) and USS Anchorage (LSD-36).
COMPTUEX was 13th MEU's first opportunity to conduct special operations missions forward, from the sea. The MEU completed eleven missions in 10 days.
Behind the scenes on each successful mission were the unsung heroes of 13th MEU's embarkation section. After planning and coordinating the on-load of the majority of 13th MEU's vehicles, equipment and personnel aboard the Tarawa ARG, MEU embark conducted detailed load and movement planning for each mission.
MEU embark is a vital element of each movement, and the responsibility rests on the shoulders of three Marines. The embark section serves as planners and supervisors, and with the help of the ship's combat cargo section, it mobilizes the MEU for its many missions and provides ancillary logistical tasks like transportation and delivering food, ammunition and other supplies to the front lines.
Embark Marines have to think on their feet and have a good feel for the vehicles, gear and support needed to support a mission, said SSgt. Eric K. Schmidt, 13th MEU embark chief. "You really have to think about the most reasonable way to support a mission and adjust when things don't work out as planned," the 29-year-old native of Laguna, Calif., added. "The only pressure is in the scheduling, so the mission runs smoothly and you don't waste time and money."
"COMPTUEX went well considering it was the first time all 13th MEU elements got together for their first at-sea period," said Capt. Scott Hansen, 13th MEU's embarkation officer, who also has close to 20 years embarkation experience and is working on his third float with 13th MEU. "Our biggest hurdle in the MEU is time. It's hard to configure loads for all possible missions on a six-hour time crunch."
MEU embark has help figuring out how gear, vehicles and equipment will fit into a ship using the Computer Aided Embarkation Management System. The system provides a diagram of the ship's exact storage dimensions, and uses a database of various amphibious vehicles' and equipment's weights and dimensions to configure the ship's load-out plan. The embark section then has to gather input from the MEU's major subordinate elements to prioritize how gear will be loaded and off-loaded, based on the mission and commander's guidance. A MEU embark Marine also gets the unique experience of planning for air, land and sea embarkation.
The MEU embark team usually plans one exercise in advance to keep their heads above water. And although it's not always a rewarding job trying to keep the MEU mobile when the unexpected happens, SSgt. Schmidt knows that the MEU can't leave home without them.
"Being a logistician is a science," he said. "Knowing how to plan properly, use time wisely and accomplish the mission when it's time to go to war requires experience and skill. When you're dealing with varying weights, sizes, shapes, methods of transportation, a wide range of missions, sea states and the unexpected, it's imperative you get it right."