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15TH MEU(SOC) joins fight in Iraq

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 200531725246
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Robert Knoll

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Mar. 17, 2005) -- The opportunity for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) to enter Iraq and contribute to the war on terrorism has finally arrived, midway through their six-month deployment.

The MEU arrived at their forward operating base here earlier this month and immediately began preparing to conduct security and stabilization operations in their area of operation. Before arriving in Iraq, they spent more than two weeks in Kuwait zeroing their weapons and refining other basic war-fighting tactics.

All coordination to move the unit was made by the Command Element’s logisticians along with the help of additional logisticians from each major subordinate unit, according to Gunnery Sgt. John Owens, 33, the command element logistics chief and native of Springfield, Ohio. Combined, they coordinated the movement of tons of gear, vehicles, weapons, along with more than 1,600 Marines and sailors.

About 1,200 of those individuals were moved by strategic airlift using Air Force C-130 aircraft and Army CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. Nearly 400 Marines and sailors traveled with the cargo and vehicles in tactical and commercial convoys from Kuwait. The movement went smooth with only one minor delay for what was believed to be an improvised explosive device, which turned out to be a false alarm.

With old “libo” floats long gone because of the ongoing war on terrorism, the 15th MEU was expecting this assignment. The unit had this in mind when they began additional urban skills training immediately after their last deployment. It was especially emphasized by the I MEF, G-7 section that was responsible for training the MEU and certifying them “Special Operations Capable.”

Nearly every training exercise was customized to prepare the unit for this Area of Operations. Battalion Landing Team 1/1, the ground combat element of 15th MEU, is performing searches for weapons caches, high-value targets, and augmenting traffic checkpoints, according to Lt. Col. Matt “Mad Dog” McEwen, 43, executive officer and native of San Diego.

“All the missions have gone well so far,” McEwen said about their progress in the region, but was cautious by saying there is still a lot of work to accomplish. The whole area is susceptible to IEDs, mortar and rocket attacks, he added.

McEwen also said that the Marines have been doing a great job of staying vigilant to the various threats. Recently, Marines conducting a routine mission noticed moped with wires hanging out of it. 15th MEU explosives ordinance disposal technicians were called and it turned out to be an IED.

The MEU is also manning various vehicle checkpoints in their AO to prevent the movement of weapons and insurgents throughout the area.

At the FOB, MEU forces have augmented the Army’s security forces by taking over a number of guard towers and an Entry Control Point or ECP, according to Capt. Dustin Ballard, 31, force protection officer and native of Monroe, Ore. He and his force protection chief, Staff Sgt. Andrew Wiseman, have organized more than 50 Marines to stand the posts. They work directly with Army, and Iraqi Army forces to maintain the FOBs security. “I’ve been pretty impressed with the Army,” he said about their setup of the security positions and the level of support being provided to 15th MEU.

To prepare for these operations, the MEU spent extra time purchasing specialized protective equipment, such as uparmor kits for HMMWVs and upgrades for weapons systems. All of these improvements were made to ensure the Marines were properly equipped for their work in Iraq.

This assignment comes shortly after 15th MEU wrapped up humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. They were called to assist those nations after they suffered devastating effects from a massive earthquake and ensuing tsunamis. The 15th MEU, working with Expeditionary Strike Group 5, provided thousands of pounds of humanitarian aid to those affected by the disaster.

Now in Iraq, the MEU joins a host of different Marine, Army and National Guard units already in country. Many of the Army units are here for one year, while other tours vary in length. The 15th MEU will be in country until their mission is complete.

The 15th MEU is no stranger to this country. They first made their mark just two years ago when they crossed the border from Kuwait and conducted an overwhelming assault to secure the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr during Operation Iraqi Freedom I.

Their mission was to secure the port facility and protect it for follow-on logistical and humanitarian operations, which they did with complete success. The MEU then continued their push north by securing the Iraqi Naval port of Khor Az Zubayr and then later securing and stabilizing An Nasiriyah for further reconstruction efforts.

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