Deploying on a Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU, is worthwhile experience, involving traveling across the globe embarked on Navy ships and participating in various international exercises or reacting to global threats.
But the highly coveted deployments are usually never without incident as cooped up Marines and sailors stuffed in tight quarters tend to let loose when ships dock at international ports for a few days of leave and liberty.
This was the case with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which just recently returned home from a six-month deployment, now tarnished by misconduct, a fired commander, air mishaps and an international incident involving vandalism and drunk and disorderly conduct during a port call in Gaeta, Italy, in April.
At least six junior enlisted Marines were busted down in rank for underage drinking and drunk and disorderly conduct following a port visit on April 21 by the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock New York, according to a series of charge sheets obtained by Marine Corps Times via a Freedom of Information Act request.
One of the six Marines, a then-lance corporal, was also charged with “wrongfully damaged property” and “pulling on a street sign and kicking over a construction fence,” according to the charge sheets.
The damage totaled less than $500, but was enough to warrant involvement and investigation by Naval Criminal Investigative Service and local law enforcement in Gaeta.
The Marine involved in the vandalism was busted down to private first class, placed on restriction for 45 days, forfeited half of his pay for two months and received 45 days of extra duty.
But Gaeta would not be the only incident of misconduct for the troubled 26th MEU deployment.
That same month and on the same ship, a lance corporal was busted down one rank after he failed to report a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice — the “wrongful broadcast of an intimate image,” the charge sheet detailed.
Two other Marines were hit with equal opportunity violations. In March, a junior enlisted Marine aboard the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, made a “sexually suggestive comment” that contributed to a hostile work environment, according to a charge sheet.
A staff sergeant was reprimanded for using a “disparaging term towards another person’s race” and drunk and disorderly conduct following a port visit to Limassol, Cyprus, in March. The staff sergeant was forfeited some pay and was placed on restriction for 45 days and received 45 days extra duty.
That same month aboard the Iwo Jima, a lance corporal was charged with entering a female sailor berthing area without an escort in violation of a regulation. He was busted down to private first class.
A corporal was also busted down to lance corporal following an incident on July 23 when the junior noncommissioned officer stayed out past an 11:59 pm curfew frequently called “Cinderella liberty” by Marines and sailors and got belligerent and aggressively postured himself against senior ranking individuals and a commissioned officer.
Apparently, the Marine was “intoxicated to the point” where he disobeyed direct orders and did “not remember doing such,” the charge sheet said.
But misconduct would not be the only thing to plague the 26th MEU deployment.
In April, a couple of air mishaps involving a AV-8B Harrier and CH-53 would cut short a training exercise in Djibouti known as Alligator Dagger. The pilots in both incidents did not sustain serious injuries.
In May, the commander of 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment embarked with the MEU, Lt. Col. Marcus Mainz, was abruptly fired.
The Corps provided few details over the sacking on the 2/6 commander and it is still unknown why the infantry commander was removed from his position.
Marine Corps Times reached out to the 26th MEU and II Marine Expeditionary Force regarding misconduct during the MEU’s deployment and has yet to receive a response.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.