Marines lend helping hand in Virginia Beach
24th MEU
Story by: Staff Sgt. Demetrio J. Espinosa

NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va.(Feb. 28, 2006) -- Every night in the Command Logistics Operations Center, the Marines of Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 24 plan for the next day’s operations. Most involve moving Marines and gear around the city. But one mission request came in to help the local community. It is a relatively simple mission, so a reconnaissance team is sent to assess the situation and recommend a course of action to the MSSG-24 commander.

The 24th MEU Marines are conducting their Training in an Urban Environment Exercise in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. The realistic community-service mission to demolish and remove two old foot bridges from a local park is an example of the same type of requests they would receive in Iraq. Operating in the city provides the Marines a perfect training environment.

“It gives us the opportunity to work in an urban environment,” said Gunnery Sgt. Carl Zador, a combat engineer with MSSG-24. “It is the closest thing we can get,” said the Townsend, Mass., native.

According to Zador, the missions aren’t the only important training; just putting his Marines through physical and environmental stress is important. That type of training will prepare them physically for their upcoming deployment.

“We are all out here wearing our gear. We are getting out bodies conditioned,” said Zador. “We pushed out security like we would on deployment. We also kept our eyes open for things to look for on the convoy.”

According to Cpl. Justin Muir, an engineer with the MSSG, the training mirrored missions he went on during his tour in Iraq with the 24th MEU in 2004.

“When we were in Iraq, we did things like help distribute food and water. We also rebuilt an orphanage,” said Muir. “We helped clean up bases for the Iraqi police.”

Marines operating around the city, driving on local streets and working in a neighborhood park didn’t go unnoticed. But residents were glad to have them in the neighborhood.

“When I saw the Marines, I called my husband,” said Monica Garrison, a resident who lives near the park. “I have seen a lot of people drive by and look to see what the Marines are doing.”

According to Garrison, whose son plays in the park often, the Marines were helping to get rid of a safety hazard in the park.

“The bridges were getting kind of old. They weren’t too safe,” said Garrison.

Although the job was relatively small, the Marines were happy to have the opportunity to train and to thank the local community.

“We wanted to give back to the community,” said Zador. “They are real supportive.”