Gearing up: 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit prepares to deploy.

Author:Kennedy, Harold
Position:Cover Story

An estimated 600 combat-armed Leathernecks and sailors from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are scheduled early this month to prowl through the streets and waterways of Savannah, Ga., as part of an intense training regimen that almost certainly will lead to deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The unit is in Savannah to conduct two weeks of training in an urban environment, which is designed to prepare the unit to operate in cities, towns and villages when they deploy in the fall.

The 22nd, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., will complete its training sometime in September or early October with a certification exercise, dubbed CERTEX, off the coast of North Carolina. That event will be designed to determine whether the MEU is "special-operations capable," or SOC, explained the unit's commander, Col. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr.

"I personally spend a lot of time training to meet that standard," said McKenzie, who has commanded the 22nd since Oct. 2002. The unit recently returned from a 2004 deployment to Afghanistan.

The two exercises, like much of the unit's training, will be overseen and evaluated by the II Marine Expeditionary Force's Special Operations Training Group. This unit, also headquartered at Lejeune, doesn't try to turn Marines into special operators, like members of Army Special Forces or Navy Sea, Air and Land teams, said the group's operations chief, Gunnery Sgt. Terry Sahlbom.

Instead, he said, the group's job is to make sure that a MEU can conduct the full range of specialized missions that it may have to perform during its deployment. This can include anything from amphibious and airborne raids to urban combat, peacekeeping, non-lethal riot control, hostage rescue, embassy evacuations and disaster relief. "Basically, if it's going to be required of them in-country, we train it," Sahlbom said.

In June, for example, the 22nd's maritime special-purpose force was training for direct action and close-quarters battle. As its name suggests, the MSPF is designed to execute difficult seaborne missions, McKenzie explained. "It's built around our force and division reconnaissance and security platoons with an infantry element."

At the same time, leathernecks from Golf Artillery Battery, part of the MEU's ground-combat arm, the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, were participating in helicopter rope suspension training, learning how to insert or extract Marines and sailors by helicopter into or out of tight locations, such as thick forests...

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