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Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB)

The aphorism is that "The Marine Corps deploys by brigades, but fights by divisions." The MEB concept has been around since the 1950s. With service in the Korean War, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the robust and scalable command and control capability and combat effectiveness of the MEB is unquestioned. Eliminated Marine Corps-wide in the early 1990s, a MEB was activated within each MEF as of January 1, 2000.

In light of pressing manpower considerations, in the early 1990s the Marines deactivated the six standing brigade command elements. MEBs were brought back in 1999 as a force structure that would be able to respond to trouble spots quickly and with increased firepower. In early 2000, the Marines reestablished three Marine Expeditionary Brigades by embedding their staffs within the Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters. These units are now actively operating. The 1st MEB participated in operation NATIVE FURY, a humanitarian assistance mission in Kenya; 2d MEB has been integrated into contingency plans for Europe and Latin America; and, 3d MEB has conducted a maritime prepositioning shipping offload in Australia.

The MEB supports Marine doctrine like Operational Maneuver From the Sea, which calls for strike capability 220 miles inland with fast-moving and sustainable forces. The Marine Corps also believes that more wars are going to be fought in urban areas by the sea, and that it remains the best early-entry force.

Before the re-establishment of the MEB, the Marines had two kinds of expeditionary forces: the Marine Expeditionary Unit with about 2,000 Marines, and the Marine Expeditionary Force with 50,000 or more troops.

The versatility of the MEB is emblematic of the unique scalability of the Marine Air-Ground Task Forces. In size and capability, these brigades are midway between Marine Expeditionary Units and Marine Expeditionary Forces. Furthermore, our MEBs can either deploy on amphibious shipping or be airlifted into a theater of operations and join up with Maritime Prepositioning Forces.

  • The Amphibious MEB embarks aboard Naval ships to destinations throughout the world, where it can make an amphibous assault, take a beachhead and open a lane to project offensive combat power ashore. An Amphibious MEB would deploy aboard Naval vessels with more than 4,000 Marines. The force brings several key advantages that would require it to be used rather than a smaller Marine Expeditionary Unit.
  • An Maritime Prepositioning Force MEB can be much larger, and project offensive combat power throughout its theater of operation. An MPF MEB would deploy to a theater where it would offload the required equipment from an MPF ship. Because this is a land-based force, it can be much larger than an amphibious MEB, bringing more than 16,000 Marines and Sailors to the theater of operation quickly.
  • A NALMEB can be as large as an MPF MEB, and project offensive combat power throughout the European theater of operation. A NALMEB would deploy to the Northern Atlantic theater where it would retrieve the required equipment from caves in Europe. Because this is a land-based force, it can be much larger than an amphibious MEB, bringing more than 16,000 Marines and Sailors to the theater of operation quickly.

The Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) is a MAGTF built around a reinforced infantry regiment, an aircraft group, and a Brigade Service Support Group (BSSG). It is normally commanded by a Brigadier General. The Marine Expeditionary Brigade was formerly referred to as Marine Amphibious Brigade (MAB). As an expeditionary force, it is capable of rapid deployment and employment via amphibious shipping, strategic airlift, marrying with Maritime Prepositioned Force (MPF) assets, or any combination thereof. The MEB deploys with 30 days of accompanying supplies and is capable of conducting combat operations of limited scope. If the scope of operations expands beyond the capability of the MEB, additional forces can readily deploy to expand to a MEF. Thus, the MEB becomes the forward echelon of the MEF.

The Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) concept represents a significant capability for deployment of Marine forces. The MAGTF that falls in on maritime prepositioned equipment and supplies (MPE/S) comprises a portion of a MPF. This force, because of its method of deployment, provides the CINC of a unified combatant command with a range of strategic deployment and employment options. A MPF consists of a commander, a ship or ships of a Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron (MPSRON), a MAGTF and a Naval Support Element (NSE). This force will normally be commanded by a Navy officer designated as Commander Maritime Prepositioning Force (CMPF). The MAGTF and NSE are deployed by strategic airlift into an area of operations, arriving and assembling with the prepositioned equipment and supplies on the MPS. The MPSRON can be offloaded instream and/or at pierside if a port is available. The prepositioned equipment and supplies are currently configured aboard each MPSRON to support not only a full MEB (with all the MPSRON's ships) but also a MEU (with one ship), a low-intensity conflict (LIC) MEB (with two to four ships), or any lesser required capability.

The Ground Combat Element (GCE) of a MEB is tailored to accomplish a specific assigned mission. It is normally an infantry regiment reinforced with selected division units.

The Aviation Combat Element (ACE) of a MEB is a task-organized Marine aircraft group. This group has substantially more varied aviation capabilities than the normal helicopter/attack/fighter/control group. It contains those antiair warfare capabilities required by the situation. Unlike the ACE of the MEU, the entire ACE of a MEB is usually organized and equipped for early establishment in the objective area as airfields are uncovered or expeditionary airfields are established.

The Combat Service Support Element (CSSE) of a MEB is a Brigade Service Support Group (BSSG) which is task-organized from the organic battalions of the FSSG. The BSSG is organized to provide maintenance support, limited line haul transportation, expeditionary vertical and horizontal construction, supply support, medical collecting and clearing, and landing support functions.

If a MEB is to be the lead echelon of a MEF and the concept of operations envisions the deployment of a MEF, the MEB will be designated as the MEF (Forward) (e.g., II MEF (Forward)). If the MEB is to be a stand alone MAGTF and the concept of operations does not envision the deployment of a MEF, the MAGTF will be designated as a MEB (e.g., 5th MEB). If the concept of operations later changes to require the MEF, the MEB will be designated as the MEF (Forward) in preparation for the arrival of follow-on forces (e.g., redesignate 5th MEB as I MEF (Forward)).

The commander of a MEB is ordinarily a brigadier or major general. The ground combat element is ordinarily a Regimental Landing Team. The aviation element is ordinarily a composite Marine Aircraft Group. The fourth element is the all-important Brigade Service Support Group. The repetition of the word "ordinarily" is intentional; there is no fixed organization for a Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

Marines have been deploying by brigades for more than a hundred years. The first expeditionary brigade worth counting was the one that went to Panama in 1885. At the turn of the century, another brigade marched to the relief of the embassies in Peking, shouldering aside the Boxers, then returning to the Philippines for service against Aguinaldo's insurgents.

When the Marine Advance Base Force, the forerunner of today's Fleet Marine Forces, was formed in 1913, it was a brigade of two small regiments. It also had an aviation detachment: two primitive flying boats. The Advance Base Brigade had its first expeditionary testing at Vera Cruz in 1914. Unfortunately, the aviation detachment did not go along. There was no convenient way to get the short-legged flying boats from New Orleans to Vera Cruz other than to take them apart and put them into boxes.

In 1917, after the United States entered World War I, it was planned that Marine aviation would support the Marine brigade that was sent to France, and which figured prominently at such places as Belleau Wood, Soissons, Blanc Mont, and the Meuse-Argonne. But the 1st Marine Aviation Force-four squadrons of DH-4 DeHavillands--which reached France in late summer 1918, was used as the Day Wing of the Navy Bombing Group, far from where the Marine brigade was engaged.

Between World Wars I and II, the Marine Corps sent small expeditionary brigades to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and China. In every case, these brigades had an organic aviation element.

In 1933, when the old-style East and West Coast Expeditionary Forces became the Fleet Marine Forces, there was a 1st Marine Brigade based at Quantico and a 2d Brigade based at San Diego. Each had its own aircraft group. At about this time, Marine squadrons began qualifying for aircraft-carrier operations. This carrier qualification cross-training has continued.

In early 1941 the 1st Marine Brigade became the 1st Marine Division and the 2d Marine Brigade became the 2d Marine Division. Correspondingly, the East and West Coast air groups became the 1st and 2d Marine Aircraft Wings. Early World War II Marine Corps deployments were made in brigade strength. In the summer of 1941, a 1st Provisional Marine Brigade was pulled out of the new 2d Marine Division, formed in 15 days, and sent to garrison Iceland. In January 1942, a 2d Brigade was taken out of the 2d Division and sent to American Samoa. Two months later, a 3d Brigade was stripped out of the 1st Marine Division and dispatched to Western Samoa. In 1944, a two-regiment 1st Provisional Marine Brigade (entirely different from the brigade that went to Ireland) was formed for the re-occupation of Guam. By the end of World War II, the Corps had expanded to six Marine divisions and five aircraft wings, and close air support had been developed to a fine art.

After the war, the Marine Corps shrank to a point where it could barely man the skeletons of two divisions and two aircraft wings. When the Korean War erupted on 25 June 1950, the Marine Corps hurriedly stripped down the 1st Marine Division to form a provisional brigade. This brigade landed at Pusan on 2 August and, with the support of a Marine aircraft group with three fighter-bomber squadrons, two of them carrier-based, had a great deal to do with the successful defense of the Pusan Perimeter. On 15 September, this brigade would join with its parent 1st Marine Division, now fleshed out with Reserves, for the landing at Inchon. The 1st Marine Division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing remained in Korea for the remainder of the war and turned in a good performance, both in the air and on the ground.

The four Marine battalion landing teams that landed in Lebanon in 1958 were brought together into the brigade size 2d Provisional Marine Force. After that, the time-hallowed term "provisional" fell into disuse.

By the early 1960s the MAGTF concept had crystallized and the MEU, MEB, MEF triad had emerged. The Dominican Intervention of 1965 saw the initial employment of the 6th Marine Expeditionary Unit and a buildup to the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

In Vietnam, the first substantial commitment of U.S. ground combat forces was on 8 March 1965, when the 9th MEB landed at Da Nang. It had, of course, its aviation element. The 9th MEB was followed on 7 May by the landing of the 3d MEB at Chu Lai, some 55 miles south of Da Nang. Both brigades were then absorbed into the III Marine Expeditionary Force, which quickly had its name changed to the III Marine AMPHIBIOUS Force because it was presumed that the South Vietnamese had unhappy memories of the French EXPEDITIONARY Corps. Eventually, the III Marine Amphibious Force would include two Marine divisions, two Marine regimental combat teams, and a huge 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, but this took several years, with battalions and squadrons being fed into the country one at a time.

The designation of MAGTFs as "amphibious" rather than "expeditionary" continued until 1988, when General Gray put things back the way they had been, to reflect more accurately Marine Corps missions and capabilities. Said General Gray in explaining this change: "The Marine air-ground forces which we forward deploy around the world are not limited to amphibious operations alone. Rather, they are capable of projecting sustained, combined arms combat power ashore in order to conduct a wide range of missions essential to the protection of our national security interests."

For Operation Desert Shield, if the 1st and 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigades were to be deployed, as planned, by air, they would be taking virtually nothing with them but their individual arms and equipment. That would not give them much combat potential. It was expected that their heavy equipment and supplies would be borne to the scene by the Maritime Prepositioning Force.




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