ABOARD THE USS TARAWA (LHA 1) -- According to Gunnery Sgt. Albino Parra, “’Admin’ is a nightmare.” Though he is willing to submit that particular simile, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s personnel section handles the nightmare like a dream.
With Fighting 13th Marines embarked aboard the USS Tarawa, pounding the sand at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Facility Twentynine Palms, Calif., flying the skies high above Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and diligently holding down the fort at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, the MEU’s personnel section maintains full accountability.
“Accountability is a serious issue,” said Parra, S-1 Personnel Chief of the Fighting 13th. “You have to know where everybody is. The (Commanding Officer) wants to know where his Marines are.”
Parra, a former Drill Instructor, is also serious about perfection. Two full counts of every Fighting 13th Marine and Sailor are submitted to the S-1 section daily in the form of morning and evening reports. Numerous counts are required at various times, but Parra said he continuously keeps the count to better track the MEU’s progress. If the reports do not match up, Parra sounds the alarm.
“If the numbers don’t match,” he began, keeping the quiet, serious tone ever present in his voice, “something bad has happened.”
In the event of “something bad,” the S-1 section is prepared to take appropriate action. The MEU work-ups, started in January in preparation for the upcoming Western Pacific Deployment (WESTPAC 05-1), have given the S-1 Marines a better feel for casualties of war.
A clerk is posted 24 hours a day in the S-1 operational office, standing by to react to any emergency situation.
Captain Mark Rodgers, 13th MEU Adjutant, said that in addition to tragedies in operating environments, his section is always prepared to perform the routine administrative duties.
“It’s kind of strange, but we’re really a low-profile office - until something goes wrong,” Rodgers said. To prevent the stresses of missed pay, improper SGLI beneficiaries, record discrepancies and training data, the S-1 office conducts frequent “Admin Stand-downs,” when, according to Rodgers, the MEU can communicate with the individual Marines on a personal basis and correct any potential catastrophie, before it happens.
“It all boils down though, to mission readiness,” said Rodgers. “If a Marine has screwed up pay, it detracts his ability to focus on his mission.”
It’s staying focused on missions that help Rodgers, Parra and the S-1 warriors stay ahead of the “numbers” game.
Personally attending each operations and intelligence brief, along with mission confirmation briefings, Rodgers said he can estimate what the personnel counts will be during the time of the mission to prevent confusion among the Major Subordinate Elements (MSEs).
“I can look a (helicopter borne) raid briefing, for example, and see how many Marines will be on each bird, where they’re going, and if they are going to be staying there. Then I brief my Marines so they can prepare for the count in case the numbers look different,” explained Rodgers.
Personnel issues, in addition to a workload the size of the MEU (literally), are also a time-sensitive duty.
“It’s not one of those jobs where you can say ‘Well, I’ll just do it tomorrow,’ you have to do it ‘now,’” said Rodgers.
“No matter where we are or what we’re doing,” he added “we’re always working. The payoff is mission-focused Marines.”
To learn more about the Fighting 13th MEU, visit the Fighting 13th web site at www.usmc.mil/13thmeu.