Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked aboard the three-ship Bataan Amphibious Ready Group Monday, according to U.S. 2nd Fleet.
USS Bataan (LHD-5) and USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) departed from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., while USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) left from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fortstory, Va.
The almost 4,000 sailors and Marines departing from Virginia and North Carolina will be part of the first East Coast ARG/MEU in 2023, according to USNI News amphibious deployment database.
The last East Coast ARG/MEU was the Kearsarge ARG with the 22nd MEU embarked, which returned from an Atlantic deployment in October.
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is based in North Carolina and includes the command element; the aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron, 162 (Reinforced); the ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1/6; and the logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22.
“I could not be any prouder of the Marines, sailors, and families of the 26th MEU(SOC),” Col. Dennis Sampson, commanding officer of the 26th MEU said in a Monday statement.
“They set the bar very high during our work-ups.”
In addition to the MEU, other command includes Fleet Surgical Team 8, Tactical Air Control Squadron 12, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26, Assault Craft Unit 2, Assault Craft Unit 4 and Beach Master Unit 2.
Prior to the deployment, the 26th MEU was certified as a special operation capable as part of its nine-month work-up cycle. As the Marines wait for the Amphibious Combat Vehicle to join the fleet, the service is adapting the MEU for other missions.
During a visit to Bataan in April, USNI News observed the vehicle stowage deck of the big deck amphibious warship loaded with LAV-25 light armored vehicles. Additionally, the MEU is embarking additional 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats.
“What we’ve done is taken Marines that are familiar with water operations from the amphibious assault battalion Navy coxswain courses to a high standard, and we also put them through a maintenance course that is associated with those 11-meter RHIBs,” Sampson told USNI News in April.
“We’re heavily reliant on our aviation assets to build combat power ashore. We’re more reliant on LCACs and LCUs but they’re not equivalent to tracks. We’d like to have those ACVs.”
In addition, a Navy special operations detachment was embarked aboard the MEU during a USNI News visit in April.
The deployment of the ARG/MEU comes as the Marines continue to make their case for a minimum 31-ship amphibious fleet. Earlier this year, former Marine commandant Gen. David Berger told the House Armed Services Committee the service has “let down” U.S. Africa Command commander Gen. Michael Langley by not having a MEU available to help with the evacuation of non-combatants from Sudan in April.
“I feel like I let down the combatant commander because Gen. Langley needs options. He didn’t have a sea-based option. That’s how we reinforce embassies. That’s how we evacuate them. That’s how we deter,” he added.
“It opens up risks for the combatant commander. We have to have 31 at a minimum. Nothing less.”