The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit launched more than 100 non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and four Harrier airstrikes on Islamic State targets during a nearly nine-month deployment that focused heavily on crisis response operations in the Middle East.

Much of the deployment also saw a company of Marines and 11 MV-22B Ospreys poised on 60-minute standby in Kuwait, ready to provide security reinforcements to the U.S. eEmbassy in Baghdad if called upon, said MEU commanding officer Col. William Dunn in a Dec. 16 briefing at the Potomac Institute near Washington, D.C.

"We held that posture, 60 minute strip alert, really for the duration of our deployment, until we were relieved by the 11th MEU," Dunn said.

The deployment, which began in February and got a 21-day extension due to these ongoing operational demands in and near the Middle East, often had the MEU's tenant elements tasked at maximum capacity.

Marine Corps Times reported in September that the 22nd MEU had launched what may have a first airstrike on an Islamic State target, dropping ordnance from an AV-8B Harrier near the Haditha Dam. Dunn confirmed that the MEU had used Harriers to drop 500-pound bombs in four separate air strikes, though he wouldn't describe the location or effects of the strikes.

As the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 approached, the unit was also asked to posture troops at the ready in case of an attack or other violent event. To do so, with all aviation assets tied up in Iraq-focused operations, required some legwork.

The Mesa Verde, one of the three ships in the Bataan amphibious ready group supporting the MEU, moved into the Middle East area of operations long enough to offload its V-22s and Osprey equipment and take on CH-53E Super Stallions, before heading back toward Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti to stand ready there.

"A couple times during this deployment, I did put in my [situation report] that we were 100 percent maxed out, 100 percent tasked," Dunn said. "Any additional tasking will require sequential adjustment to current tasking."

Had the unit received an additional assignment, he said, it would have been up to the combatant commander to determine which missions took priority.

In September, the MEU finally received the call to insert about 150 Marines into Baghdad aboard Ospreys to stabilize the embassy, part of a 350-troop plus-up requested by the State Department. Those Marines would stay there for the remainder of the deployment, when they were eventually replaced by troops from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Central Command forward based in Sigonella, Italy.

"I flew my Marines out of Iraq into Kuwait [airlifted] them to Sigonella, and then we flew them with V-22s out of Sigonella back to the Bataan," Dunn said.

Dunn also revealed details of how the MEU prepared for a prospective evacuation of trapped refugees from Iraq's Mount Sinjar in August — a massive air effort that was ultimately called off before execution.

Ahead of the planned evacuation, 22 additional Ospreys were attached to the MEU, Dunn said. Ten of the birds came from Afghanistan, where combat efforts were drawing to a close, and an additional 12 were en route from SPMAGTF-Crisis Response-Africa, headquartered in Europe, before the mission was canceled.

"Although the mission was stopped before we came to total fruition on that, we were prepared to do a humanitarian assistance to help those refugees if required," Dunn said. " … So this would have been another demonstration of the capability of the MEU command element. We can receive additional assets. Bringing another squadron in, another two squadrons, is pretty simple for a MEU command element to handle."

The deployment also illustrated how the special purpose MAGTFs geared for crisis response, like the two designed to respond to emergencies in now two separate forces focusing on Africa and the Middle East, could work alongside the MEUs to expand Marine Corps reach, he said.

"I am very proud of how seamlessly two Marine units with two [colonel level] commands came right together and there were no issues," Dunn said. "That is what we do, that is what we offer the nation: rapid and timely response."

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