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West Coast MEU readies for novel deployment

Jan. 20, 2013 - 05:12PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 20, 2013 - 05:12PM  |  
Cpl. Luis Villalobos, a heavy equipment mechanic with Combat Logistics Battalion 13, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, works with fellow Marines to lift a 3-ton slab of reinforced concrete during urban search-and-rescue training. Such skills may be needed for disaster-relief missions when the MEU deploys this year.
Cpl. Luis Villalobos, a heavy equipment mechanic with Combat Logistics Battalion 13, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, works with fellow Marines to lift a 3-ton slab of reinforced concrete during urban search-and-rescue training. Such skills may be needed for disaster-relief missions when the MEU deploys this year. (Sgt. Christopher O'Quin / Marine Corps)
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CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — When the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit gets underway for shipboard pre-deployment training this spring, it will become the first West Coast-based unit to take the MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor out to sea.

The 13th MEU will have a dozen of the hybrid aircraft, which are replacing the CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters the Marine Corps has relied upon for medium lift ashore and at sea since Vietnam.

The Osprey, which flies fast like an airplane but also hovers like a helicopter so it can loiter and land in confined areas, will bolster the 13th MEU's capabilities when it deploys overseas this summer for the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf regions.

"Our area of influence has been greatly expanded," said Col. Christopher D. Taylor, the 13th MEU commander and a veteran CH-46E pilot.

The Osprey carries more combat troops and can go farther — and faster — than the Sea Knight. "It expands our utility," Taylor said in a Jan. 10 interview. "We are truly transglobal."

When it deploys, the MEU could therefore respond to crises in other regions outside its immediate geographical command, whether on ship or ashore. "We can go across the boundaries much faster and be back faster," he said.

Taylor will lead a force of more than 2,300 Marines and sailors when the 13th MEU deploys aboard the San Diego-based amphibious assault ship Boxer, dock landing ship Harpers Ferry and transport dock New Orleans.

The MEU is expected to replace the Camp Pendleton-based 15th MEU, currently deployed with the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group in the U.S. Central Command region.

The Osprey squadron, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, will lead the 13th MEU's air combat element. The MEU's ground combat element is the battalion landing team led by 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. Combat Logistics Battalion 13 provides logistical support.

Along with a detachment of the heavy-lift CH-53E Super Stallion and two KC-130J Hercules refueler-transport aircraft, the 13th MEU is the first unit to have the upgraded AH-1Z Super Cobra attack and UH-1Y Huey utility helicopters. Both helicopter gunships represent "a phenomenal capability," Taylor said. He also will have the ScanEagle unmanned aerial system, which remains as a proof-of-concept for the MEUs.

This month, the 13th MEU kicks off its pre-deployment integration and training period as part of Amphibious Squadron 1, the San Diego-based command that will lead the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group.

The seagoing part of the workups will start with a "group sail," which enables carrier landing qualifications for aircrews, on- and offload practice for embarkation crews and shipboard acclimatization for those Marines and some sailors who haven't yet earned their "sea legs."

"We have Marines and sailors who have never been with a MEU," Taylor said. It's unclear whether the entire MEU will get underway for the workups because the New Orleans is getting shipyard maintenance in San Diego and may not be ready, he said.

Before that happens, the 13th MEU will spend about a month training with Japanese self-defense forces during the annual "Iron Fist" exercise, which run through mid-February at Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. A combined-arms exercise at the desert warfare center also is planned, although it is not typically on an MEU's pre-deployment training schedule.

The 13th MEU remains focused on its four primary missions, Taylor said:

• Crisis response. "Our mission is readiness … across the full range of military operations," he said. That includes everything from reinforcing security at U.S. embassies to responding to natural disasters overseas.

• Contingency operations in support of operational plans. "We are really an enabler for a (Marine expeditionary brigade) or the pointy end of the spear," he said.

• Engaging with U.S. partners in Theater Security Cooperation exercises. "Those are important," he said of TSC events, which include treaty partners and other allies across the Asia-Pacific region, helping many of them train and build capabilities in their own forces.

• Ongoing operations, including counterterrorism and humanitarian missions. Even when operating from ships at sea, those missions, as directed, can include support to special operations forces and kinetic operations, such as combat in Afghanistan, he said.

"We have to be able to do the most complex, high-risk events," Taylor said. "You always have to be ready."

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