ABOARD USS TARAWA -- As if it was the final round of a heavyweight boxing title match, 13th MEU scored a knockout on SOCEX.
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Navy-Marine team recently completed Special Operations Capable Exercise 00-2 - its final exam and SOC certification to lead from the front as America's 911 force for the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf regions during Western Pacific deployment 00-2.
After two at-sea pre-deployment periods, during Composite Training Unit Exercise and Fleet Exercise 00-2, 13th MEU progressively sharpened the 'tip of the spear' for SOCEX. The 13th MEU team, aboard ships of the Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group, was evaluated for nine separate missions. The 13th MEU was previously evaluated for a Gas/Oil Platform takedown mission during Fleet Exercise 00-2.
Thirteenth MEU Marines and Sailors transformed - poised with a stern-looking game face, ready to respond - as the first warning order for a Humanitarian Assistance Operation was announced. Soon, the planning process was in full swing, and 13th MEU sent in the Forward Command Element as the 13th MEU commander's direct representative and liaison team for the American Embassy in the fictitious country of "Green."
Data communication and radio operators with the FCE quickly established vital communication links between to the Landing Force Operations Center aboard Tarawa, other ships of the Tarawa ARG and the embassy. This liaison team plays a vital role in conveying the 13th MEU commander's intent and concept of the operation to the ambassador and embassy staff.
"This critical liaison team provides the basis for all decisions made in a successful mission," said Capt. George A. Herrera, a 28-year-old force protection officer from San Jose, Calif., who serves as the FCE's operations officer. "It also gives us a perspective on how our actions are viewed by the world and the media. The rapport we build with the embassy team facilitates the mission and minimizes the potential harm and danger placed on our Marines and the citizens we protect.
"There's a lot of talent on this FCE," Capt. Herrera said. "It comes down to the hard-working efforts of the data communication and radio operator Marines, and the total team effort of every member on the FCE to make a mission successful."
After the FCE assessed the situation in country and provided essential intelligence and imagery of the hostile forces, the HAO force prepared to move in and provide assistance. Once ashore, the HAO force faced the challenge of establishing two separate HAO sites in an effort to eliminate aggression between internally displaced citizens and refugees of two neighboring countries. The separate sites posed security challenges as well, but the HAO force, with expert judgment and determination, managed to feed more than 230 citizens and refugees with little confrontation.
After the HAO, the 13th MEU's team of warriors from the sea quickly responded to a ship Visit, Board, Search and Seizure mission and a Direct Action mission. The progressing scenario involved other missions such as a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel, a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation, an amphibious (boat) raid and a Long-range Helicopter Raid. The crowning blow to SOCEX was an amphibious assault on Red Beach and follow-on raids on simulated hostile forces in the country of Green.
"I've really enjoyed SOCEX, and I'm looking forward to the float," said LCpl. Michael Martin, a 21-year-old AV-8B Harrier ordnanceman from Michigan City, Ind. "Our squadron is a tight-knit group, and I work with some great people. They enjoy their jobs and it shows in their dedication."
"All phases of the pre-deployment cycle have given us some great learning experiences," said Capt. Wes Spaid, a CH-46 pilot with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161. "We looked at SOCEX like the Super Bowl, and we knew we had the cream of the crop with 13th MEU to win - everyone from the maintenance department, to the Maritime Special Purpose Force to the helicopter company."
"As we break from summer camp (SOCEX), we look forward to game day, Aug. 14, when we set sail for our deployment," said Col. Christopher J. Gunther, commanding officer of 13th MEU. "There's nowhere I'd rather be than here with the Tarawa ARG."
"The 13th MEU and Tarawa ARG has a solid team," said BGen. James R. Battaglini, deputy commanding general for I Marine Expeditionary Force. "I have to give kudos to the ship's crew and to the great decision makers on a successful SOC certification. This is truly a blue-green team, and it is evidenced by the way they operate."
"Our missions were carried out with precision and a sincere team effort along the way," said Navy Capt. Allan D. Wall, commodore of Amphibious Squadron 5. "SOCEX was a muscle-building stage for all of us, and we'll get a chance to use our muscle on the float. Together, no one can defeat us."