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MEU wraps up Crescent City TRUEX

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 200412162431
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Mark E. Bradley

JOINT RESERVE BASE, NEW ORLEANS (Dec. 16, 2004) -- A Training in an Urban Environment Exercise is traditional training for any Marine Expeditionary Unit preparing for deployment. But for the Marines and Sailors of the 26th MEU, urban training in New Orleans Dec. 4-16 was anything but traditional.

The Marine Corps’ first urban convoy with close-air support in a major U.S. city, the first parachute insertion of reconnaissance and surveillance teams during TRUEX, and a live video feed of combat operations beamed straight to the MEU’s command post topped the list of notable “firsts” for the exercise.

During the urban convoy, the MEU drove several vehicles throughout the City of New Orleans, both day and night, with aircraft support from several elements of Marine aviation.
Stacked at altitudes from 500 to 15,000 feet were AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters and AV8-B Harriers from HMM-162 (Reinforced), EA6-B Prowlers from Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron-1 and a C-130 from Marine Air Refueler Transport Squadron-252.

From a vehicle, the forward air controller relayed the ground scheme of maneuver to the supporting aircrews to enable them to make the best decisions on how to support the convoy.
“I take the information from the troops on the ground and translate in a way the pilots understand,” said Capt. Scott Peters, the convoy FAC and assistant air officer for the MEU. He relayed this critical data during all phases of the convoy including the critical casualty evacuation phase, when CH-46 helicopters landed in the city to pick up and transport simulated casualties to the rear for medical care.

As the convoy moved through the Crescent City, a Pelican reconnaissance aircraft provided a live video feed of the progress directly to the combat operations center at Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, located twenty miles away.

The Pelican was used during all the MEU’s training scenarios in New Orleans and proved to be an invaluable asset during TRUEX. Provided by the Joint Forces Command, Pelican is a piloted version of the unmanned reconnaissance aircraft commonly referred to as Scan Eagle. To create Pelican, The Scan Eagle sensors are simply placed on a piloted Cessna aircraft since FAA regulations prohibit unmanned aircraft to be flown over U.S. cities.

“Every faction, from the FAC to the drivers to the aircrews, learned a lot more about how to execute urban CAS and urban convoy support,” said Maj. Brian R. Blalock, 26th MEU air officer. “We are really grateful to the people of New Orleans for letting us do this training.”

The purpose of the urban convoy operations fell in line with the intent of the entire exercise: to provide a realistic urban training environment to prepare the 26th MEU for deployment.

Focusing on real-world scenarios and tactics currently used by enemies in the Global War on Terrorism, TRUEX was structured around four situational training exercises where the capabilities of the MEU’s Maritime Special Purpose Force were brought to center stage.
The MSPF is the MEU’s surgical strike force that is used in situations where a large-scale conventional assault is not the desired action.

The Marines of II Marine Expeditionary Force’s Special Operations Training Group, who were responsible for administering the training, incorporated terrorist cells, hostage situations, chemical weapons, roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices in the exercise. Their intent was to test the abilities of the MEU and expose any shortfalls to be corrected before the MEU vies for its “Special Operations Capable” designation prior to deployment.

One corporal thought the training was very realistic, and he may be among the most qualified to make that call. After back-to-back tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cpl. Justin Burza of Kalamazoo, Mich., is now a blocking team leader for the MSPF. His team’s mission is to protect the Force Reconnaissance Platoon from threats outside the objective area during a raid.

“You have the [Simunition] rounds and there are a lot of SOTG instructors who make it real for you,” he said referring to the four missions he had taken part in during TRUEX. “It all seems very realistic, especially using the trucks. That is normally the way we did things in Iraq. We would role in, jump off the trucks, do what we had to do and jump back on the trucks.”

Through every phase of the exercise thorough intelligence collection, analysis and reporting were critical. Using every bit of “intel” available, the MEU planning cell worked through each scenario using the rapid response planning process or R2P2.

This process is used to plan and execute missions within a six-hour window and is the benchmark of all Marine expeditionary units.

Though the complexities of the scenarios were limited only by the imagination of the Marines from SOTG who designed them, the preparation for each followed a format identical to how the MEU would handle a real-world mission.

A warning order would come to the MEU from “higher headquarters” indicating insurgent activity was happening in a certain area of the city. It was up to the 26th MEU team to determine the exact location and respond with force to the threat.

The first step normally involved inserting reconnaissance Marines and snipers on the target to ascertain the type and level of activity going on. Then, after careful analysis of the intelligence collected, planners developed a course of action and sent in the assault force.

The assault, centered on the Force Reconnaissance Platoon, moved in, killed or captured the enemy, seized weapons, and exploited the site for intelligence.

Now, with the final STX complete, the Marines and Sailors of the MEU are packing away their gear to return home for the holidays with the satisfaction they accomplished what they came for.

“We came here to demonstrate a high degree of success in urban combat operations, and the Marines and Sailors in the 26th MEU showed themselves extraordinarily,” said Col. Thomas F. Qualls, 26th MEU commanding officer. “We were challenged by four STXs, with four R&S inserts, each with varying degrees of complexity. On each one, we got better and better.”

Qualls expressed gratitude for all those who helped make the exercise possible, especially the people of New Orleans. He explained he believes the support from the people here is rooted in a firm understanding of the importance of the fight in the Global War on Terrorism. Oil refineries, trans-shipment points, tall buildings, canals and bridges represent a few of the favored targets of international terrorists.

Qualls also noted the importance of the exercise given the MEU’s current track. “This unit is heading for combat in the months ahead. There is no doubt in my mind about that," he said. "This MEU is where it needs to be as we approach our final days before we sail.”

The 26th MEU’s next scheduled exercise will see the unit back at sea with USS Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group in January for its final exercise prior to the Special Operations Capable certification exercise in February.

To follow the 26th MEU through the remainder of the pre-deployment training and deployment, log on to


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