Marine training kicks off today on Central Coast

By Janene Scully/Associate Editor Santa Maria Times | Posted: Friday, July 8, 2011

A contingent of Marines and sailors will prep for future missions in the Middle East by practicing their skills on the Central Coast later this month.

The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Pendleton will train locally from today through July 21 including at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Santa Maria Public Airport and Camp San Luis Obispo.

The training will be based at Point Mugu and likely will involve some 400 to 500 people including aircraft and ground crews, Capt. Roger Hollenbeck, 11th MEU spokesman. However, the  forces training in simulated raids in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties likely will involve 75 to 80.  Other missions will be at the Port of Long Beach plus at  Rose Valley and Point Mugu, both in Ventura County. They also will involve Platform Hogan, 5 miles off Carpinteria’s coast.  The unit is readying for deployment to the Western Pacific and Middle East regions later this year. 

At the Santa Maria airport, the Marine helicopters will set up a “forward arming and refueling point” — essentially “giant gas bladders where the birds will come and get more gas,” Hollenbeck said.  “It’s not too sexy but (people may hear) additional helicopter sounds around there,” he added.

Aircraft involved in the training will include UH-1 Huey, AH-1 Cobra and CH-46 Sea Knight.

Mission planners considered airport neighbors as they developed aircraft routes to reduce the noise signatures created by the training, Hollenbeck said.  The goal is “to keep training realistic for Marines without inconveniencing the local public,” Hollenbeck added.

Flight windows are generally in the afternoons and nights to ensure pilots receive needed training in both sunlight and darkness.  All aspects of this training have been coordinated with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure the training will be effective, and carried out safely, officials said.

At Vandenberg, the Marines will use an old school campus to hone urban rescue training.

“The Marines respectfully request that local citizens who find themselves near the training venues keep a safe distance for themselves and for the safety of the service members,” Marines said in a written statement.

As part the MEU cycle, Marine Corps commanders scheduled realistic urban training for troops. Last year, for example, they trained at Fort Hunter-Liggett, Merced and nearby areas.

The Marine Expeditionary Unit provides a rapid-response force capable of conducting conventional amphibious and selected maritime operations from the sea, surface or air.

“This realistic training will prepare the MEU to be America’s forward deployed, forward engaged force,” said Col. Michael R. Hudson, the unit’s commanding officer.

The MEU is composed of a command element and three major subordinate elements; they are Battalion Landing Team 3/1, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268 (Reinforced) and Combat Logistics Battalion 11, the ground, aviation and logistics elements respectively.

“The real power of the MEU is how Marines organize, train and if required, fight as a Marine air ground task force,” said Hudson. “Training and fighting as a Marine air ground task force allows the Corps to be relevant throughout the spectrum of threats and postured to leverage all opportunities while deployed.”