PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – After eight months at sea conducting theater security cooperation exercises with foreign nations throughout the Western Pacific and the Middle East, Marines and Sailors of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (BOXARG) are slated to wrap up their Western Pacific deployment and head home to San Diego, Calif., April 24, 2014.
The 13th MEU deployed with the BOXARG aboard the USS Boxer (LHD 4), USS New Orleans (LPD 18) and the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) from Naval Base San Diego, August 23, 2013 as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout the U.S. 3rd, 5th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility. Together, Marines and Sailors carried out their mission to provide a forward deployed, flexible sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations, to support the theater requirements of Geographic Combatant Commanders. They worked to sustain this readiness and interoperability throughout 16 different countries.
Marine Expeditionary Units are capable of conducting airfield and port seizure operations, amphibious raids, amphibious assault, maritime interdiction operations and aviation operations. Additionally, MEUs are an asset to support embassy reinforcement and noncombatant evacuation operations, ensuring the well being of American citizens abroad.
The 13th MEUs deployment coincides with the Marine Corps’ strategic pacific reorientation, shifting focus away from ground conflict in the Middle East, and providing a forward-staged contingency response force at sea.
In September, the “Fighting Thirteenth” and BOXARG conducted simulated amphibious assaults on the beaches of Hawaii, sending Landing Craft Air, Cushioned hovercraft to shore with tactical military vehicles and supplies during Exercise Tropic Thunder. The training consisted of an amphibious landing, land-based tactical maneuvers and a successful record-breaking 600-mile ship-to-shore movement of four MV-22B Osprey aircraft in support of the MAGTF.
“[It] was the first time that has ever happened,” said Capt. Jason Treece, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 (Reinforced) MV-22B Osprey pilot. “This would not be possible in any other helicopter. It’s a powerful capability to the MEU quiver.”
As the first West Coast MEU to deploy with the MV-22B Osprey, the 13th MEU was able to fly faster, farther, and carry more weight in equipment and personnel, providing increased operational flexibility.
Assistant operations officer Maj. Stuart Glenn described Hawaii as a unique training opportunity for West Coast MEUs as it allows for the full Marine Air-Ground Task Force to conduct training en route to the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility.
VMM-166 (REIN) stood the watch for 245 days as America’s aviation force in readiness and flew more than 4,200 hours with 37 aircraft to include the MV-22B Osprey, AV-8B Harrier, CH-53E Super Stallion, UH-1Y Huey helicopter and AH-1Z Super Cobra. On any given day, the squadron was split and operated between 6 different locations.
“As the [VMM-166] commander, it was a humbling experience to witness this squadron in action,” said Lt. Col. Kevin M. Duffy, VMM-166 (REIN) commanding officer. “Each member truly had a front-row seat to history in the making.”
The “Fighting Thirteenth” continued across the Pacific Ocean to conduct Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) 14.1 with the Republic of Philippine Army and Marine Corps. PHIBLEX is a bilateral exercise designed to demonstrate the United States and Republic of the Philippines commitment to mutual security and strengthen long-term partnership, while ensuring the readiness of a bilateral force able to rapidly respond to regional humanitarian crises.
As the 13th MEU sailed through the Arabian Sea, Marines flew to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, where they were forward-staged to support operations with multinational and joint forces of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.
CJTF-HOA conducts focused military-to-military engagement to strengthen relations with East African partner nations. They also conduct crisis response and personnel recovery in support of the U.S. military, diplomatic, and civilian personnel to protect and defend the national security interests of the United States.
“[The Marines] have maintained a persistent and ready presence in a volatile region of the world during the last 8 months,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Bronzi, commanding officer, Battalion Landing Team 1/4. “They have ensured regional stability and did so with the pride and enthusiasm that you would expect from [the Marines].”
Throughout deployment, Combat Logistics Battalion 13 carried out its mission to provide a full range of direct expeditionary combat service support to the 13th MEU. CLB-13 ensured the sustainability of assets such as venue, water, food, medical supplies and ground transportation through means of tactical aerial delivery and engineering in a forward deployed environment.
“These Marines and Sailors have worked very hard over these last 8 months and performed well beyond expectation,” said Lt. Col. George W. Markert, commanding officer, CLB-13. “They have certainly paid their dues during the last two years of this deployment cycle.”
In December, Marines and Sailors of the “Fighting Thirteenth” trained in the United Arab Emirates in coordination with members of the Presidential Guard, United Arab Emirates Defense Force, at Al Hamra Military Base. This exercise, combining elements of BLT 1/4, CLB-13 and VMM-166 (REIN), strengthened the relationship between U.S. and UAE forces and enhanced readiness.
Throughout deployment Marines and Sailors also conducted various community relations activities where they interacted with children at local schools in the Republic of Philippines, India and a non-government organization shelter in Djibouti. Marines and Sailors also visited Singapore, Oman, Jordan, Israel and Bahrain for an opportunity to experience the culture.
On a holiday visit to deployed service members, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and Medal of Honor recipient Mr. Dakota Meyer visited Marines and Sailors aboard the USS Boxer (LHD 4).
In March, Marines and Sailors conducted their final exercise of deployment: Ssang Yong 14. Ssang Yong is conducted annually in the Republic of Korea (ROK) to enhance the interoperability of U.S. and ROK forces by performing a full spectrum of amphibious operations while showcasing sea-based power projection in the Pacific.
“I’m very proud of the men and women I have had the privilege to serve with in this command,” Duffy said. “I tell them often that as a United States Marine or sailor, they can be proud of what they do every day.”