MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- After two weeks at sea, Marines and Sailors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to Camp Pendleton and MCAS Miramar this week, having completed their final pre-deployment workup, the Special Operations Capable Exercise.The SOCEX was the culmination of seven months of training ranging from over-the-horizon maritime and ship-to-shore operations to desert fighting in 29 Palms. Operation Iraqi Freedom extended the MEU?s training cycle when the USS BOXER Amphibious Ready Group deployed early this year to take Marines from I Marine Expeditionary Force to the Persian Gulf for war with Saddam Hussein.In addition, the Marines of Battalion Landing Team 1/1, HMM-163 (Rein) and MSSG-13 compose the Strike Warfare Component for Expeditionary Strike Group-One, a seven-ship battle unit commanded by Navy Rear Adm. Robert Conway designed to provide a mobile, agile, lethal and flexible Navy-Marine force vital to the ongoing War on Terrorism.The 13th MEU's Commanding Officer, Col. Mike Regner, welcomed the additional training and the opportunity to take The Fighting 13th on the maiden voyage of the Expeditionary Strike Group, along with Amphibious Ready Squadron Three."What it's done has made our Marines and Sailors that much better warfighters," said Regner. "And with the capabilities that the ESG brings to the fight, I think we'll get the chance to use those skills. We're privileged to be sailing with this great team for whatever the President directs us to do for this Nation."The Marines conducted a series of missions, ranging from feeding and providing medical treatment to refugees all the way to destroying SCUD missiles and conducting raids on terrorist camps.Aboard USS PELELIU Monday, senior officers and Staff NCOs got a hint of how their Devil Dogs performed."You've had extra challenges, being the first MEU to do the ESG," said Col. Anthony Haslam, 11th MEU Commanding Officer and one of the senior evaluators. "But you've come together as a team, both within the MEU and with the Navy. You?ve been thorough in the planning and the execution, and you got the job done. Based on what I've seen here, I'm going to recommend to Lieutenant General Conway that the 13th MEU be certified 'Special Operations Capable'."In addition to PELELIU, Marines will be embarked aboard USS OGDEN and USS Germantown. The other ships of the ESG are USS JARRETT, USS DECATUR, USS PORT ROYAL and USS GREENEVILLE.Lance Cpl. Neil Westerberg, a signals intelligence specialist, arrived at Camp Pendleton just before the MEU boarded ship for SOCEX. He said despite the late arrival, his fellow Marines helped him get up to speed ? high speed, that is."I pretty much had to hit the ground running," said the 24-year-old Cocoa Beach, Fla. native. "But my team showed me the ropes and what I needed to do. I was very impressed with how well they functioned."Arabic linguist Lance Cpl. Matthew Lane said he was excited about the upcoming deployment, which he said would provide the Marines with unique memories."Just getting used to life aboard ship, learning how to live in the same 20 feet as 16 other Marines has been educational," said Lane.The MEU is currently scheduled to deploy the third week of August and remain deployed for 8 ½ months. But look at the bright side, said the 25-year-old Lane."I think an eight-month deployment and all the hot spots in the world right now gives us a pretty good chance of doing the job we signed up to do."His buddy Westerberg agreed."When I was in the recruiting office, this is what the poster showed. This is what being a Marine is supposed to be like."