CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- At a glance, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit looks like most units aboard Camp Pendleton.
It’s comprised of individuals who swore an oath to defend their country and were forged in the same crucible of recruit training.
But together, these Marines make up an elite unit, by constantly training to prepare for global contingencies. Their professionalism and dedication have given the 15th MEU a reputation as one of America’s premier crisis-response forces.
Adding to this reputation, the 15th MEU recently completed Exercise Iron Fist 2014 alongside Japanese brothers in arms, aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Jan. 23, 2014.
The success of the exercise would not have been possible without countless hours of planning, preparation and execution from the Marines working with the MEU.
“Exercise Iron Fist 2014 was a resounding success,” said Lt. Col. John R. O’Neal, commanding officer, 15th MEU. “The hard work and flexibility demonstrated by the Marines of the 15th MEU and a host of supporting units from across [I Marine Expeditionary Force], and 3rd Fleet ensured we met or exceeded all of the exercise objectives.”
Completing an exercise of this magnitude required sections of the 15th MEU to fire on all cylinders.
It started with logistics taking on the overwhelming task of supplying the necessities to make the training possible.
“To pull off an exercise of this scope, we rely on logistics support,” said Capt. Stephen Page, assistant logistics officer, 15th MEU. “We take care of all the major external logistics coordination, so units participating in the exercise can solely focus on the training.”
Marines in logistics spent about six months preparing, by constantly meeting with unit leaders and key personnel.
“We did an initial, mid and final planning conference with the Japanese to get their requirements for training up front,” Page said. “Identifying everyone’s needs early on is how you stay ahead of the ball.”
Putting in the hours to arrange those needs was Sgt. Kristopher Robinson, maintenance management specialist, 15th MEU.
During the exercise, Robinson spent his time at San Clemente Island coordinating needs for 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company and soldiers with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.
“Pulling long shifts like we were takes its toll, but we know that the training cannot go on unless they have everything they need,” Robinson said. “That includes everything from Port-a-Johns to High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles. That’s what keeps me going. I don’t want training to be delayed because I messed up or forgot something.”
The Japanese soldiers also observed how the 15th MEU prepares logistics and load plans for transporting machinery, equipment and troops.
“They learned a lot of good knowledge after seeing how we operate,” Page said. “It’s all stuff that’s going to benefit them in the long run.”
Building on the success of previous exercises, the 15th MEU logistics section has developed a recipe for success.
“The good thing about the logistics Marines here is that we embrace that every Marine is a logistician,” Page said.
This gives the logistics section the diversity to use their Marines as needed.
“Whether you’re a maintenance management Marine, [motor transportation] mechanic, [motor transportation] operator or an embarker, it doesn’t matter. Bottom line is everyone has to know logistics. That way, in case we lose someone, we can still accomplish the mission,” Page said.
Operations also played a major role in the planning process and set up for Iron Fist 2014.
“My Marines set up the [command operation center],” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Torain Kelley, operations chief, 15th MEU. “That is where everything from weather to training events get briefed.”
When planning for a large scale exercise, constant communication and flexibility are just a few of the keys to success, added Kelley.
“A commander’s ability to be flexible is important because they need to be able to make decisions that can affect training or operations based off real-time information provided by Marines on the ground,” Kelley said.
Soldiers with the JGSDF took advantage of this opportunity to learn the Marine Corps Planning Process.
“The [JGSDF] got to see firsthand our [standard operating procedures] for planning large scale exercises or operations,” Kelley said. “Since they are a land army, they really don’t have experience planning ship- to-shore movements and we were able to show them everything that Marines do on a daily basis in an operational setting.”
Communication is also essential to the success of any mission. Marines with data communications established and maintained capabilities needed to provide commanders with real time information.
“The [satellite and radio communications] we maintain are also used by the [major subordinate elements], as well as the Japanese involved in the training,” said Cpl. Amos Nunglian, field radio operator, 15th MEU. “This is important because most of the exercises involve multiple units in different locations. Without [communications] it can become one big mess and delay training.”
Three weeks prior to Iron Fist 2014, Marines from the 15th MEU, Combat Logistics Battalion 15 and 9th Communication Battalion, conducted a communications exercise to establish the services essential for successful command and control.
“There can be a lot of pressure on you, but we have great Marines here who know what they’re doing,” Nunglian said. “We rely on each other to get the job done.”
One section that benefited heavily from communications success was the 15th MEU’s intelligence section.
“Solid communications is essential for the intelligence gathering we do,” said Sgt. Pedro J. Rivera, intelligence analyst.
The intelligence section was in charge of providing information such as weather, battlefield terrain and weather conditions to aid MEU and Japanese commanders.
This information helped plan scenarios to complete the realistic training.
“These are the specifics that we look into for every mission we conduct when deployed,” Rivera said. “If we overlook any of these there could be serious repercussions in the mission, and the Japanese soldiers got to experience what information is needed to form the best possible battle plan.”
Rivera, who has been with the 15th MEU since May 2012, attributed his section’s success to hard work and preparation, and the overall success of all the sections in the MEU.
“It’s a combined effort,” Rivera said. “When you have a smooth foundation based on preparation and everyone else doing their job well, you’re going to succeed.”
“Everyone in the MEU gave it 150 percent and it showed,” Rivera added.
As part of the team effort, the MEU’s administration section played a major role in bringing all essential personnel together.
“For months prior, messages are sent out [to the units and sections] stating the requirements and they reply with what they’d like,” said Capt. Abdul E. Mack, adjutant, 15th MEU. “It may not always be feasible to get what they want, but we do what we can to make it happen.”
Accomplishing this feat took weeks of planning and coordination with all sections within the MEU, as well as preparation among the administration section.
“We practiced as many possible scenarios that could arise for Marines reporting in,” Mack said. “A lot of them may have issues that they need taken care of.”
The administration section worked with Marines reporting in to help keep them focused on the exercise.
“Just because they’re coming here doesn’t mean those problems get put on hold. We try to facilitate them as best as possible.” Mack said.
As Iron Fist 2014 came to a close, everyone celebrated the hard work and dedication that was put forth during the training.
Both units walked away better prepared for whatever future events may be in store.
“We measurably increased the JGSDF's ability to plan and conduct amphibious operations while strengthening the bonds between the USMC and the Japanese Western Army Infantry Regiment,” O’Neal said.
The 15th MEU continues its mission as America’s crisis response force by participating in training exercises with partner nations and other U.S. services.
These exercises support U.S. security by strengthening international bonds and serving as a framework for future joint operations.