View Full Version : The 22nd MEU Did Its Duty

07-30-04, 06:38 AM

From the Editor:

The 22nd MEU Did Its Duty

By Ed Offley

This one is dedicated to the men of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Seven months ago, I and a dozen other journalists climbed aboard a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for a 20-minute hop out to the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp. For the next eight hours we received briefings and conducted interviews with the commanders of the Navy’s second “Expeditionary Strike Group” and members of the 2,300-man Marine force it would ferry into harm’s way.

The Marines, as I wrote last December, were preparing for a combined live-fire assault inland that would kick off that night, part of a 10-day training exercise readying the force for overseas duty (see “Back to Iraq – with a Florida Detour,” DefenseWatch, Dec. 18, 2003).

When you’ve written about the military for a long time, these one-day encounters can easily become pro forma. You don’t really have time to dig out any in-depth issues that may be lurking below the surface, and your conversations with the troops tend to be time stolen from them as they hustle to ready themselves and their gear for action.

But there is another result, which is what keeps me motivated for those O-Dark-Thirty wakeups and tedious waiting in military air terminals for the helicopters that are overdue once again. Viewing young men and women young enough to be your own kids as they steer the warship, man the LCAC hovercraft or lock and load live rounds for a test-firing from the hangar deck does wonders for one’s attitude. It reminds you that the distant headlines from Kandahar and Mosul involve real people serving their nation in areas of great potential danger.

The 22nd MEU is stationed at Camp LeJeune, N.C., and had traveled down the Atlantic Coast and into the Gulf of Mexico to partake in a new training regime utilizing the vast acreage of Eglin AFB. Because the Navy-Marine Corps leadership team in the Wasp strike group and their Air Force hosts wanted the word out on this new partnership, I had the opportunity – however briefly – to meet people like Lance Cpl. Jeff Lopez and Cpl. Daniel Hernandez, two members of the 1st Battalion, Sixth Marines, the 850-man infantry component of the 22nd MEU.

At the time of our encounter, the Marines had no idea where their unit might end up.

“I like to travel,” Lopez told me at that time. “I wouldn’t mind going to Iraq.”

I added in my earlier column, “Lopez will likely get his wish.”

Several hours later, the journalists walked aboard an LCAC hovercraft for the ride back to the beach. Ten days after that, the Wasp ESG sailed back to North Carolina where the Marines went through their final weeks before deploying overseas, and fading out of sight.

What prompted me to dust off these old notes and reflect upon them was a column in The New York Times this morning that couldn’t have been more wrong about our ongoing attempts to destroy Al Qaeda.

Op-Ed columnist Barbara Ehrenreich briefly cited Afghanistan in a screed about the ongoing Democratic National Convention:

“So here in one word is my new counter-terrorism strategy for Kerry: feminism. Or, if that’s too incendiary, try the phrase ‘human rights for women.’ I don’t mean just a few opportunistic references to women, like those that accompanied the war on the Taliban and were quietly dropped by the Bush administration when that war was abandoned and Afghan women were locked back into their burkas. I’m talking about a sustained and serious effort (italics added).”

Ehrenreich had obviously missed – or ignored – an article in the Stars & Stripes newspaper earlier this week that disclosed a major combat operation in Afghanistan over nearly four months involving the 22nd MEU. The Marines had not gone to Iraq. Instead, they had deployed to Afghanistan and beginning in March, had launched a major operation against Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the remote southern Uruzgan Province. The newspaper reported:

“The Marines are credited with killing more than 100 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters during weeks of running gunbattles in an area completely avoided by conventional U.S. forces until their arrival. ‘You’re the best this place has ever seen,’ Army Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the top field commander in Afghanistan, told a gathering [of] Marines at Kandahar Airfield this weekend.”

“The Marines’ offensive, he said, put the Taliban on the run in their own back yard. ‘Never again can they use that place as a sanctuary,’ said [General] Olson. ‘You proved to the world the United States of America is going to take this fight to the most dangerous part of Afghanistan unafraid and absolutely determined.’ ”

Olson quoted Lt. Gen. David Barno, the senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan: “Never in the history of Operation Enduring Freedom has there been an offensive operation like the one the 22nd MEU conducted. Never have we been this successful. You have made history here.”

Meanwhile, Lopez and his mates will find their 2003 prediction coming true sooner than they could have ever expected. After returning to Camp LeJeune in the next few weeks, the clock begins ticking for their planned deployment to Iraq sometime at the end of the year.

I hope to see them again before they go.

Ed Offley is Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at dweditor@yahoo.com. Please send Feedback responses to dwfeedback@yahoo.com. © 2004 Ed Offley.