ABOARD THE USS BOXER -- ABOARD THE USS BOXER (June 3, 2006)–- Members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, embarked aboard the USS Boxer headed on their first at sea to put their amphibious skills to the test.
Deep into their workup cycle, this is the first time this year the 15th MEU embarked ships and headed out to sea in preparation for their upcoming six-month deployment.
During this time, the Navy and Marines will combine forces to complete a number of training exercises including Vessel Board Search and Seizure, helicopter raids and direct-action raids.
Moving aboard the ship is a big adjustment that all the Marines will face, an adjustment that provides both benefits and complications for everyone to work through.
Before the first at sea period began, Marines from each section were assigned to Combat Cargo.
“Combat Cargo is basically a buffer between the Navy and Marines while aboard the ship,” said Cpl. Joseph D. Ward, administrative clerk with the MEU who is augmented to Combat Cargo.
As the buffer between the two services, Combat Cargo Marines work directly with the Navy on a number of things including the direction of aircraft on the flight deck and the embarkation of all the MEU’s vehicles and equipment.
One of the biggest adjustments is getting used to the living quarters. Most of the Marines will transition from living alone or with a room mate, to a berthing on ship where they will live with up to 120 other service members in the same room.
For many Marines, this will be their first time aboard a ship, living and working conditions are very different from what they are accustomed to on Camp Pendleton. Enlisted Marines now have to sleep in narrow beds stacked four high.
While aboard the ship the Marines are limited on recreational activity, too. “We really have nowhere to go to get away from people,” said Cpl. James Brundage, a team leader for the 15th MEU’s Maritime Special Purpose Force Security Element. “Privacy is very limited and besides going to the gym, we are basically limited to watching TV, playing video games, or reading books.”
Other adjustments to the ship included restrictions on personal communication, which is limited to email because personal cell phone use is not authorized. “It’s hard not having any communication with the outside world or with my wife,” said Lance Cpl. Mitchell J. Janicki, a team leader for the 15th MEU’s Maritime Special Purpose Force Security Element.
“As Marines we usually carry a lot of gear with us, and all the passage ways on ship are pretty narrow making it pretty difficult for us to make our way around,” said Brundage.
While compacting the MEU’s elements, the Aviation Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, Combat Logistics Battalion and Command Element, into a few ships may cause some tight quarters, it allows for easier planning and coordination for each element of the unit. For instance, when conducting a full scale mission aboard Camp Pendleton during training, it involves coordination of units from all over Camp Pendleton, Miramar, and Yuma, Ariz. Once the MEU boards the ships, all of the elements are brought together onto one ship.
“The ship brings everybody into one place and prevents us from running around in circles looking for people during mission preparation,” said Cpl. Bryan P. Costello, radio operator for the 15th MEU’s Maritime Special Purpose Force.
The MEU’s ACE, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (Reinforced,) also had to make adjustments transferring their operations from an air station to a ship. HMM-165 (REIN) moved equipment for several aircraft from three different air fields all to the inside of one ship.
Additionally, instead of working as an independent unit, the squadron will have to work directly with the Navy to coordinate their flight operations. This coordination is necessary once underway for tasks such as refueling and securing aircraft to the flight deck.
The 15th MEU will complete two additional at-sea periods before deploying, giving the unit an opportunity to validate the exercises conducted during the 1st at-sea period. The 15th MEU is scheduled for a six-month deployment to the Western Pacific region later this year.