Thursday, December 01, 2005

Once again into the Breach!

Once again the Eighth Marines take up their deployment to the Middle East, We say God Bless each and every one of them on their deployment. Semper Fi Marines!!!

CAMP LEJEUNE, NC(Nov. 30, 2005) -- For the fourth time since the seismic events of 9/11, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is preparing to deploy abroad in support of the War on Terror.

In a ceremony Wednesday at Camp Lejeune’s W.P.T. Hill Field, the unit grew from its standing headquarters of some 100 Marines and sailors to a highly potent air-ground task force of 2,200, as the MEU took charge of its three major subordinate elements.

The re-activation formally launched an intensive six-month pre-deployment training cycle designed to prepare the MEU – arguably the nation’s premier crisis-response force – for a host of possible missions ranging from humanitarian assistance to full-scale combat.

Joining the MEU command element for roughly the next year were its designated air, ground and logistics components: Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, and MEU Service Support Group 24.

The MEU will conduct much of its training in and around Camp Lejeune, but the schedule also includes exercises at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia and in Norfolk, Va., where the MEU will hone its skills at operating in an urban environment. Additionally, the MEU will execute several sea drills aboard the amphibious assault ships Iwo Jima, Nashville and Whidbey Island, the naval vessels that will transport the MEU during its deployment.

While the MEU has been home since it completed a seven-month deployment to Iraq in February, it has not been idle. In early September, while busy assembling the pre-deployment training program, the MEU headquarters, BLT 1/8 and MSSG-24 were ordered to the U.S. Gulf Coast to aid recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Marines spent nearly a month in the stricken region before returning to North Carolina to resume preparations for its scheduled deployment next spring.

The MEU heads into its latest round of workups with considerable combat experience. The MEU headquarters and MSSG-24 spent their last tour in Iraq south of Baghdad, taming the highly volatile “Triangle of Death,” while 1/8 played a leading role in the recapture of Fallujah in November. At the same time, HMM-365 logged its own seven-month stint in western Iraq.

Still, Col. Ronald Johnson, the MEU commander and himself a veteran of five tours in the Middle East, implored his Marines to guard against complacency and to make the most of every training opportunity.

“Time is our enemy,” he told them, repeating what has become a mantra. “No two deployments are the same. The battlefield is constantly evolving, and our adversaries are constantly thinking and adjusting. As we get ready to re-enter the arena, we must never forget how high the stakes are for our Marines, our families and our country.”

While the 24th MEU’s rich lineage traces back to the 1960s, it wasn’t until October 1983 that the unit, during a watershed deployment to Beirut, Lebanon, entered America’s consciousness.

In what remains the deadliest terrorist strike against Americans overseas, an explosives-laden truck barreled into the barracks housing the headquarters of BLT 1/8, the ground combat element of what was then called the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit. The attack killed 241 U.S. troops, including 220 Marines.

Throughout the 1990s, the 24th MEU distinguished itself in a number of high-profile but relatively low-intensity operations. These included Provide Comfort, the 1991 mission of mercy in support of Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq and Turkey; Restore Hope in Somalia in 1993; Support Democracy in Haiti in 1994; and Allied Force, NATO’s air campaign against Kosovo in 1999.

Its most heralded triumph came in June 1995 with the daring rescue of Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady, an F-16 pilot shot down over wartorn Bosnia who eluded capture for six days before Marines landed behind enemy lines to pluck him to safety.

The 24th MEU was in Kosovo on Sept. 11, 2001, wrapping up a six-month deployment dominated by training exercises with allied forces. Before it returned home, the MEU briefly supported Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Johnson, then serving as the operations officer for Task Force Tarawa and slated to take command of the 24th MEU later that year, tapped the MEU to help secure key terrain during the drive to Baghdad.

In June 2004, halfway through its last training cycle, the MEU was ordered to straight to Iraq as the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority prepared to hand political control of the country over to the interim Iraqi government.

While it’s too soon to know where the MEU will be sent next year, all eyes are clearly on Iraq.

“We have unfinished business over there, and we expect that’s where we’ll be needed most,” said Johnson. “But we’ll be ready for anything.”

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