Cherry Point Marines returned this week from a six-month deployment with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Mediterranean Sea.
Some 122 Marines from Marine Air Control Group 28, Marine Air Logistics Squadron 14, and Marine Attack Squadron 542 returned to Cherry Point Tuesday and Wednesday. They were all part of a detachment that joined with MEU members and made major contributions in the defeat of ISIL in Sirte, Libya.
The MEU conducted numerous operations from both the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) and amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17), with AV-8B Harrier II, UH-1Y Huey and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters, contributing to the nearly 500 total U.S. strikes on ISIL targets in Sirte, Libya.
Harriers from Marine Attack Squadron 542 from Cherry Point participated in the strikes along with MV-22 Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 from New River.
“As we were going through the Mediterranean we got tasking to support AFRICOM and Operation Odyssey Lightning and we supported that for pretty much about four months and just returned here now,” said Lt. Col. Joe Beals, detachment Officer in Charge of VMA-542 Harrier detachment. “We did a lot of good work. There was a lot of ordnance expended. We were able to help the ground force commander and that’s our job out there, to support those guys on the ground.”
The exercises and operations were in the U.S. 6th and 5th Fleet areas of operation, including Exercise Noble Shirley 2016 in Israel; Exercise Sea Breeze, a multi-national naval exercise in Ukraine; and a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) exercise with the U.S. Embassy-Muscat, Oman and Royal Omani Police.
The 22nd MEU deployed from Camp Lejeune in June aboard three ships of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group (WASP ARG); the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) and amphibious dock landing ship USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41).
“That’s what the Marine Expeditionary Unit is support to do, to do that sea-based expeditionary ops and to see it all in action was just rewarding,” said Beals. “The squadron did great out there.”
Sgt. Colin Gallagher, whose job it was to maintain a communications help desk, said it was the first time he had spent any time aboard a ship.
“Not a lot of freedom. You lose a lot of the freedom’s that you are used to like even going out to eat. You lose a lot of those being on ship because you are restricted to this 800-foot ship and there is nothing else but the people around you to eat with and the chow hall to eat at. You can’t go shopping. You can’t go out Friday nights. You can’t do anything really. You are stuck having fun with the people around you,” said Gallagher. “You meet a lot of people that you normally wouldn’t talk to so it’s a good experience. I won’t be going home for Christmas. I will have to spend it with the friends I made on the boat and fellow coworkers.”
“We’re just glad to be back,” said Staff Sgt. Travis Dunlap, an air operations operator. “We did well. We are glad that the mission is done and glad to return home to our families. It is amazing to be back in time to spend this special time of the year with family again.
He admitted it felt good to send some unexpected presents to ISIL prior to Christmas.
“We’re back in the fight,” said Dunlap.
“We were given a mission to accomplish and we accomplished it,” said Gallagher.