What is a Marine expeditionary brigade?

25 Jul 2011 | Staff Sgt. Brian Buckwalter

During Exercise Javelin Thrust 2011, Camp Pendleton-based Marines are testing their ability to function as a Marine Expeditionary Brigade, or MEB.

While MEBs have been around the Marine Corps off and on since the 1950s, what they actually are may be confusing. With MEFs, MEUs, MAGTFs and all sorts of other alphabet soup acronyms thrown around, a MEB’s significance and capability may be lost in translation.

To borrow a math analogy to help explain, all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Likewise, all MEBs are MAGTFs, but not the other way around.

The nation depends on the Marine Corps to deploy forces with the ability to move ashore and self-sustain for prolonged operations. These forces are organized into various Marine Air Ground Task Forces, or MAGTFs, which combine aviation, ground and support assets under one commander. Depending on the situation – whether it’s combat operations, crisis response or humanitarian assistance – a MAGTF will morph, in size and capability, to meet the requirement.

The largest MAGTF is a Marine Expeditionary Force of about 60,000 Marines and sailors. The MEF is the Marine Corps’ principle organization, which exists in peacetime and wartime and deploys as necessary to support U.S. forward presence and crisis response capabilities. One of the Marine Corps three MEFs, First Marine Expeditionary Force, is based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Within each MEF is a MEB, a “middleweight” force of about 14,500 Marines and sailors. The MEB is light enough to use the flexibility and capacity of amphibious ships, yet heavy enough to operate independent of local infrastructure to accomplish the mission.

If a situation calls for a West Cost-based MEB, the Marines come from within I Marine Expeditionary Force. For the command element, the deputy commanding general of I MEF becomes the commanding general of 1st MEB, and deputies become staff principals. Ground, air and support elements are drawn from units in the region.

While a MEB typically has organic subordinate air, ground and support elements, for Javelin Thrust 1st MEB is only providing the command element. The subordinate units are coming from the 4th Marine Division, Air Wing, and Logistics Group.

Javelin Thrust 2011 is second in a series of four MEB-level training exercises designed to increase command element readiness this year.