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Tarawa "Stuffs" SOCEX

Navy Newsstand

11/26/2002 12:23:00 PM

By Chief Journalist William Polson, USS Tarawa Public Affairs

ABOARD USS TARAWA, At Sea (NNS) -- Navy and Marine Corps units operating as part of the USS Tarawa (LHA 1) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) recently blew away an accelerated series of training exercises that has put them in position to deploy to the Western Pacific when called upon.

More than 2,000 Sailors on three San Diego-based amphibious warships and 2,200 Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) (Special Operations Capable) participated in the joint exercises off the coast of Southern California Nov. 14-25.

"This was a very important 11 days for us," said the ship's Commanding Officer, Capt. Jay Bowling. "Normally, these two exercises are conducted during two different underway periods. This time, however, we conducted them back-to-back in case we needed to be ready to deploy ahead of schedule."

The two exercises, Fleet Exercise and Special Operations Certification Exercise (SOCEX), mark the final phases of training between an ARG and its MEU contingent before they deploy overseas. The exercises test and prepare the ARG for various combat and non-combat situations.

SOCEX marks the final phase of this training, and certifies that the Marine Corps and Navy team is capable of handling special operations, a vital function of an ARG. Among SOCEX's special operation scenarios: a humanitarian assistance operation, a non-combatant evacuation operation, a direct action special forces raid and a mass casualty drill.

"For us, SOCEX is like a final exam," said Bowling. "It's primarily designed for the Marines, but it relies a great deal on Navy support, such as flight deck and well deck operations."

It's not uncommon for the lessons learned during a SOCEX to be put on the firing line during a deployment. In the fall of 2000, the Tarawa ARG and the 13th MEU participated in the USS Cole (DDG 67) recovery effort. Two years earlier, the Tarawa ARG, which at that time included the 11th MEU, conducted an evacuation operation that rescued 250 people from Asmara, the capital of Eritrea.

"A SOCEX not only prepares these young Sailors for real world emergencies, it also demonstrates the many different capabilities we can bring to a mission," said Bowling. "When our time comes to go overseas, we'll able to take care of any situation at any time."

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