MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - In the past 20 years, the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit has conducted numerous expeditionary operations throughout the globe.
In 1990, 13th MEU Marines and sailors conducted the first Marine offensive actions against Iraq, boarding two Iraqi tankers whose crew refused to obey United Nations sanctions. In 1996, it became the first MEU (Special Operations Capable) to put their entire landing force ashore in Kuwait without the use of a port or airfield. In 2002, the 13th MEU provided primary air support for coalition forces during Operation Anaconda in the remote mountains of Afghanistan, at the same time building bridges, schools, wells, and improving structures at a maternity hospital in Kenya.
Marines and sailors with the 13th MEU spent two weeks in December training for kinetic and non-kinetic operations as part of Certification Exercise or CERTEX. This exercise marked the last major pre-deployment training for the 13th MEU, putting their capabilities to the test.
Previous training events enabled the MEU known as “The Fighting Thirteenth” to conduct mechanized raids, Visit Board Search and Seizure, Humanitarian Assistance Operations, Non-Combatant Evacuations and other mission sets MEUs perform.
“Compared to when we began these at sea periods we’ve improved in a lot of ways,” said Sgt. John W. Stertzer, Headquarters Platoon sergeant, Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th MEU. “We’re more organized and better prepared. This last [operations] we did, it ran a lot better and we understood our drills. It’s an experience you can only get through practice and going out to sea. We want to go out as professionals representing the Corps and its amphibious capabilities. It’s a different beast deploying by sea than by land. When we deployed to Iraq we had specific missions we performed as a unit, such as convoy security and quick reaction force. Deploying as part of a MEU, we have all these elements of the battalion that can perform a wider variety of different mission sets. We have Marines that can conduct raids, VBSS, [Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel] and several other types of missions. We can do all of these by ships that operate in different parts of the globe.”
Unlike previous training missions, the Marines and sailors did not know when they would get the call to respond to a situation. Once the scenario was presented to the 13th MEU command, they had a limited time to plan, brief and execute, just as a real-world scenario would require.
“You can always fall back on your training,” said Lance Cpl. Jordan Paris, a heavy machine gunner with Combined Anti-Armor Team 2, Weapons Company, BLT 1/1, 13th MEU. “As long as you listen to your NCO’s and do what you can, you can accomplish the mission.”
The 13th MEU not only responded to the scenarios in a matter of hours, the Marines and sailors simultaneously planned, briefed and executed multiple missions from three ships, further adding to the complexity of the exercise. Marines and sailors from Combat Logistics Battalion 13 and Bravo Company, BLT 1/1 conducted Humanitarian Assistance Operations, handing out food and water to role players and constructing structures aboard Camp Pendleton.
At the same time Bravo Company was operating, Marines of Charlie Company planned and executed a Long Range Helicopter raid from the USS Boxer, travelling more than 100 miles inland to take out a mock enemy force. Simultaneously, while Charlie Company conducted this operation, Marines from Alpha Company were planning an Amphibious Assault on a mock enemy camp miles away from shore. While Alpha Company executed this mission, the MEU prepared and launched a VBSS mission against a pirated vessel.
“Operating as part of a MEU is much faster paced than anything I’ve seen before,” said Cpl. Randy Groves, senior radio operator for Headquarters Platoon, Alpha Company, BLT 1/1, 13th MEU. “We’re communicating with ships, vehicles, and teams in the field and we need good communication to function. Most of it is waiting for the call to go on a mission. It’s more aggressive. You have to be on the spot with your skills by this point in training. You can’t afford to be inefficient, others depend on you.”
Evaluators from the 11th MEU observed the command and control process of these missions and followed the Marines executing them to see how well the MEU operated from start to finish.
“One of the best ways to set a MEU up for success is to provide an independent and objective observation/evaluation of its planning, briefing, preparation, and execution of assigned missions,” said Capt. Bryan Welles, Golf Company commander, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division, who will be deploying with the 11th MEU. “This provides the MEU with insight into what is or is not effective, and validates the MEU’s Standard Operating Procedures. This also allows a MEU to sustain its SOP’s and tactics, techniques, and procedures; rethink the areas that are not as effective. Additionally, other MEUs can learn from the 13th MEU’s strengths and weaknesses and apply the lessons learned to their own mission sets during future work-ups and deployments.”
Each of the 2,000 plus Marines and sailors, from private to colonel shared a part in the successes of CERTEX as they operated from ships USS Boxer, USS Green Bay and USS Comstock, Every Marine who kept the computers running and connected aboard ship to those who maintained the aviation assets, to the fire team leaders who performed their missions.
“The raid force [I observed] was able to effectively take raid mission tasking from higher, and plan, brief, prepare, and execute the mission to standard in a short timeframe,” said Welles. “This is positive because it demonstrates that the 13th MEU can successfully carry out a mechanized raid mission if called upon during its deployment.”
With the exercise concluded, Marines and sailors of the 13th MEU proved they can deploy and operate as part of the Navy-Marine Corps team, capable of performing a wide variety of missions as warriors and ambassadors of the sea.
When the Marines and sailors of the 13th MEU deploy this year, they could find themselves handing out food and water supporting Humanitarian Assistance Operations to assaulting a beach in a part of the world many have never heard of. While no one can ever predict the future of the 13th MEU, their accomplishments at CERTEX means they can respond to whatever that future is.