KUWAIT -- The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), which was the first Marine force on the ground in Afghanistan at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, began moving ashore at a port in Kuwait just after dawn Feb. 12.
The unit brings with it 2,000-plus highly-trained Marines who are certified capable of completing numerous operations to include airfield seizures, tactical recoveries of personnel and aircraft, amphibious raids and humanitarian assistance.
During the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, the 15th MEU(SOC) played several key roles in defeating the Taliban. They secured several airfields in Pakistan for search and rescue teams and forward refueling sites. In late November of 2001, they seized a forward operating airfield, later dubbed Camp Rhino, in southern Afghanistan. Also, through route interdictions, elements of the 15th MEU(SOC) closed known Taliban supply routes. The Marines later secured Kandahar International Airport, which is still being used by coalition forces. After a brief return to California, the unit is back in the Middle East.
"Everyone is happy to be part of this unit," said Sgt Dmitriy Zaretski, a 24-year-old scout with the 15th MEU(SOC)'s light armored reconnaissance element. "There is strong cohesion here. We're ready to go no matter what mission we're given."
The first assets to come ashore in Kuwait were the unit's light and heavy armored vehicles. The vehicles and its accompanying leathernecks later convoyed to a bivouac site in the Kuwaiti desert.
"Everything is going just as planned - fast," Zaretski, a Los Angeles native, said. "We're glad to be off the ship and on steady ground."
The Marines, who are coming ashore during a massive military buildup in the Persian Gulf, understand the situation in the region. With President George W. Bush's spokesman recently confirming that discussions had begun at the United Nations over the wording of a new resolution to enforce the one approved last fall ordering Iraq's disarmament, the Marines coming ashore are well aware of possibilities of combat in Iraq.
"We've had lots and lots of anti-armor classes covering Iraq's tanks and weapon systems," said Lance Cpl David A. Evans, a 25-year-old Juneau, Alaska, native and anti-armor assaultman with the MEU(SOC)'s Combined Anti-Armor Team. "We've had a lot of tank identification classes. We can take out anything they have with the Javelin [anti-armor missile system]."
A MEU is composed of four major elements: a ground combat element, an aviation combat element, a combat service and support element and a command element. The GCE is a reinforced infantry battalion. The ACE is a helicopter augmented with heavy-lift helos and Harrier attack jets. The CSSE is a group of engineers, medical personnel, mechanics, military police and various other support units. The CE is made up of planners, intelligence assets, communication specialist and several staff sections.
The "special operations" element of the 15th MEU(SOC) is its Maritime Special Purpose Force. The MSPF is made up of a Force Reconnaissance platoon, a specially trained rifle platoon and several other attachments that can be tailored to fit different missions. This elite group trains for urban combat strikes, close-quarters battle and search and seizures of ships.
Every Marine expeditionary unit completes a rigorous training program prior to deploying. The culmination of the workups is a final exercise in which every aspect of the unit is evaluated by a special operations training group. If the unit passes, they are certified "special operations capable."
The 15th MEU(SOC) left Camp Pendleton, Calif., embarked aboard three amphibious assault ships in early January. The ships are USS Tarawa (LHA-1), USS Duluth (LPD-6) and USS Rushmore (LSD-47).
The unit will conduct training to sustain its capabilities while in Kuwait.