bataan amphibious ready group

A U.S. Marine with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), shoots at targets with an M240B machine gun from a light armored vehicle during a live-fire exercise as part of Exercise Eager Lion 2014. Eager Lion is a recurring, multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, increase interoperability between partner nations and enhance regional security. The 22nd MEU is deployed with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Hazard/Released)

Bataan ARG heading home after long deployment

The Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are slowly headed home. The Navy announced Saturday that the units were relieved of their 5th Fleet duties Jan. 5, paving the way for a February return to their respective East Coast ports after an extraordinarily long deployment.

When they arrive at a yet-to-be-announced date, the 4,000 sailors and Marines aboard the amphibious assault ship Bataan, the amphibious transport dock ship Mesa Verde and dock landing ship Whidbey Island will have been gone 10½ months.

While Navy deployments have routinely exceeded seven months over the past five years — 10 carrier strike groups or amphibious groups have done so — the Bataan deployment is the longest in recent memory.

Officials are acknowledging the strain.

“This has been an epic deployment,” said Marine Corps Col. Eric Steidl, the 22nd MEU commanding officer, in a story posted online by Navy public affairs. “Not just in terms of duration, but for flexibility and adaptability the amphibious forces provide the combatant commander.”

“I am extremely proud of these outstanding sailors and Marines and their dedication to mission and sustained support during these past several months,” said Capt. Steve Yoder, commander, Amphibious Squadron 6. “Regardless of the task assigned, they performed all duties with great professionalism, pride, and integrity.”

The sailors and Marines were deployed ahead of schedule March 23 to support “U.S. and international contingency planning associated with the crisis in Libya,” the Navy said. Specifically, the Bataan group was being sent early to relieve the Kearsarge ARG. That group, which itself deployed early, in August 2010, was heavily involved in the Libya operation, which ultimately helped drive strongman Moammar Gadhafi from power.

Deployments are generally lengthening in response to other factors, including overseas combatant command demand for naval forces and a fleet being squeezed by maintenance requirements and decommissionings, the Navy and other sources say.

The Navy did not acknowledge the full length of the Bataan deployment until questioned in mid-November by Navy Times. The Bataan group’s deployment will exceed that of the Kearsarge ARG by nearly 60 days.

Beach Party

Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, convoy their light armored vehicles across the beach as a Navy landing craft, air cushion with Assault Craft Unit 4 departs the beach of Sierra del RetÌn, Spain, during Spanish Amphibious Bilateral Exercise 2014 Feb. 24, 2014. Spanish PHIBLEX is an annual exercise designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and develop professional and personal relationships between U.S. forces and participating nations. The MEU is deployed to the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force capable of conducting amphibious missions across the full range of military operations.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Hazard/Released)

Does not yield right of way.

A CH-53E Super Stallion approaches to land on the flight deck of USS Bataan (LHD 5) during a training exercise. Bataan is the flagship for the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Aaron T. Kiser, 5 APR 2014.)