ABOARD USS TARAWA -- Marines and Sailors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit completed their first at-sea period during Composite Training Unit Exercise 00-2, April 10-21, aboard ships of the USS Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group.
Once the ships pulled out of port in San Diego, warriors from the "Fighting 13th" MEU settled into their work spaces and awaited their first warning order for any one of 29 special operations missions MEUs are capable of executing. As six AV-8B Harriers from Marine Attack Squadron 214 landed aboard Tarawa on the first day at sea, with the resonating "sounds of freedom," Marines and Sailors of the 13th MEU were reminded of their duties as forward-deployed defenders of the Constitution and the American way of life.
COMPTUEX was 13th MEU's first opportunity during its predeployment cycle to train for joint task force missions and real-world operations from a sea-based platform. The exercise was the fourth major training exercise working toward a special operations capable certification and a deployment to the Western Pacific in mid-August. The underway exercise also gave members of the MEU a chance to familiarize themselves with the ships and adjust to the sudden lifestyle change.
Just as an expeditionary force in readiness does, 13th MEU quickly reacted to its first warning order for a Long-range Helicopter Raid. Marines from K Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/1 boarded helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, the MEU's Aviation Combat Element, to recover an airfield at Marine Corps Logistics Base, Barstow, Calif. The raid force helicopters also got a chance to conduct rapid ground refueling with an on-call KC-130 Hercules.
Soon, warning orders were published at the rapid rate, and 13th MEU conducted simultaneous mission planning for a variety of missions. These missions included a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (downed pilot), a Boat Raid, a Humanitarian Assistance Operation, a Noncombatant Evacuation Operation, a Mass Casualty Drill, a Direct Action (prisoner of war rescue) mission, and a culminating amphibious assault on Red Beach.
The 13th MEU conducted eleven missions in 10 days.
"We executed an ambitious schedule successfully, and only lost two days to weather," said Capt. Chris Ellinger, 13th MEU's Fire Support Officer and COMPTUEX action officer. "It was a great training evolution for us and our Navy counterparts to conduct a rapid response planning process and execution."
As Marines and Sailors retrograded from the Tarawa ARG to their homes for a well-deserved Easter break, they brought with them the wisdom of the lessons learned from COMPTUEX to prepare for their next underway exercise, Fleet Exercise 00-2 in May.