CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Marines and Sailors assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit returned home to Camp Lejeune, N.C., in waves starting Oct. 7, 2022 after completing a seven-month deployment with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in the U.S. Naval Sixth Fleet area of operations. The Kearsarge ARG is comprised of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington, and the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall.
The deployment marked the first time an ARG/MEU maintained a six-month presence in the Baltic region in over 20 years. More than 4,000 Marines and Sailors supported a wide range of interoperability training and exercises in 15 countries within U.S. Sixth Fleet; covering the High North/North Atlantic, Central Mediterranean, and Baltic regions promoting stability, increasing interoperability, sustaining combat readiness, and crisis response capabilities while strengthening relationships with both NATO Allies and partners.
“Our time in the Baltics and the High North was particularly valuable,” said Col. Paul C. Merida, commanding officer, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. “I think all of us in the 22nd MEU came away extremely impressed with the level of military professionalism that our friends in the region possess and the level of enthusiasm for real, integrated defense cooperation was profound wherever we visited. I believe future east coast MEUs will find the High North and the Baltics not only a challenging training environment but a region full of very capable friends and allies.”
Exercises in the Arctic Region included Northern Viking 2022, a multinational amphibious and maritime exercise alongside Allied nations from France, Germany, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom; and a two-week bilateral exercise in northern Norway and the Norwegian Sea, exercising integrated cold weather and live-fire training with the Norwegian Armed Forces.
“We believe this was the first East Coast MEU deployment in a long while that was spent entirely in the 6th Fleet area of operations and the Marines did a tremendous job operating from above the Arctic Circle, to the Baltics, to the Mediterranean Sea.” Col. Paul C. Merida, commanding officer, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
In the Central Mediterranean, Marines and Sailors assigned to USS Arlington participated in bilateral exercises such as Alexander the Great 22, a bilateral U.S.-Greece amphibious training event; EFES 22, a biennial, multinational, combined, joint and live firing exercise with Turkish Armed Forces and U.S. Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal and medical teams; as well as African Lion 22, an exercise enhancing the U.S. African Command’s partnership and security cooperation with the Tunisian Ministry of Defense.
While operating in the Baltic region, Kearsarge and Gunston Hall participated in an Estonian-led exercise, Hedgehog 22 with Estonian Defense Forces and forces from Task Group 61/2.4 and the NATO-led exercise Neptune Shield. All of these exercises incorporated 18 NATO Allies and partners working together through multiple domains throughout the European continent and waters. In June, Kearsarge and Gunston Hall participated in the joint, annual multinational exercise, Baltic Operations designed to enhance interoperability, capability, and demonstrate cohesion among Allied and partner forces in defending the Baltic Sea region.
Following BALTOPS22 and AL22, the Kearsarge ARG-MEU conducted scheduled maintenance availability periods in Brest, France, Rijeka, Croatia, and Copenhagen, Denmark throughout July 2022. The maintenance availability periods, which included mid-deployment voyage repair evolutions, allowed U.S. Navy ships to accomplish necessary and preventative repairs to continue their missions in the region while simultaneously strengthening relationships with host nations.
Photo by Cpl. Yvonna Guyette
U.S. Navy Sailors assigned to the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, watch harriers depart during flight operations in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 7, 2022. The Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 22nd MEU, are operating in U.S. 2nd Fleet in support of naval operations to maintain maritime stability and security across the Atlantic in order to ensure access, deter aggression and defend U.S., allied and partner interests.
Once MDVRs were successfully completed, the Kearsarge ARG-MEU team returned to the Baltic region as a combined force to continue strengthening relationships and partnerships. Through rapid planning, coordination, and execution, the ARG-MEU team successfully completed bilateral training events with Finland, Sweden, and Standing NATO Maritime Group ONE during the months of August and September.
Upon conclusion of operations in the Baltic region, the ARG-MEU successfully completed a cumulative of 29 port visits across the ARG visiting 14 NATO Allied and partner countries including Reykjavik, Iceland; Narvik and Tromsø, Norway; Volos and Alexandropoulos, Greece; Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm and Visby, Sweden; Gabés, Tunisia; Kiel, Germany; Brest, France; Rijeka, Croatia; Copenhagen and Kalundborg, Denmark; Riga, Latvia; Klaipeda, Lithuania; and Gdańsk and Gdynia, Poland. During each visit, the ARG-MEU engaged with representatives from embassies, ministries of defense, and local government, military, and civilian officials to strengthen relationships with NATO Allies and partners through in-person key leader engagements and exchanges including media availabilities, ship tours, office calls, ceremonies and receptions, and community service projects.
“After a busy seven-month deployment it’s good to get the 22nd MEU team back home to Lejeune,” Col. Paul Merida said. “We believe this was the first East Coast MEU deployment in a long while that was spent entirely in the 6th Fleet area of operations and the Marines did a tremendous job operating from above the Arctic Circle, to the Baltics, to the Mediterranean Sea. All of this was done with the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine War, which added an additional sense of importance to our work; much of which was done alongside our NATO Allies and other key regional partners. Our families and friends should be proud of the service their Marines rendered and I believe the 22nd MEU has represented II Marine Expeditionary Force and the U.S. Marine Corps accordingly.”
The 22nd MEU’s mission is to provide the United States with a forward-deployed, amphibious force-in-readiness capable of executing missions across the full spectrum of combat and military operations and consists of four elements – a command element, a ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 2/6, a logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion 26, and an aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263 Reinforced.
The ARG-MEU’s presence overseas in U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations supported strategic interests and contributed to regional security and stability and reassured the United States commitment to the High North, Mediterranean, and Baltic regions. The blue-green team provided operational flexibility to combatant commanders by providing a versatile contingency response force using sea, air, land and logistical assets. The versatility inherent to the amphibious force allowed for flexible and mission-tailored forces, while representing our nation’s strength, capability, and resolve to partners and allies and deterring potential adversaries.