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MEU've over for 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit;Army clears path for Marine landing

By Sgt. Bradly Shaver | | July 10, 2003

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Army Reserve soldiers with 463rd Engineer Battalion, here supporting Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, cleared rocks and gravel from the coast of Djibouti, July 2, to open the beaches for Marines training in the area.

The unit of heavy equipment operators, from Wheeling, W. Va., made an opening on the beach for the Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to make an amphibious landing and conduct exercises in the region.

The MEU command element will remain afloat off the coast of Africa and provide sustainment training flights with AV-8B Harriers. Along with the infantry Marines, this operation will be a valuable asset in the counter-terrorism mission for CJTF-HOA of detecting, deterring and disrupting transnational terrorists operating in the region.

"We're clearing out about 500 meters of beach (gravel) off the coast of Djibouti for an amphibious landing for the Marine Corps," said Army Staff Sgt. Randy Stewart, heavy equipment supervisor.  "We're making the initial cuts today and tomorrow we'll smooth it out with our road graders, making for an easier landing."

The water has washed in a great deal of gravel, rocks and sand over a period of years, some areas are from six to eight feet high, said Army Sgt. 1st Class Vince Difabrizio, equipment operator.  "It was packed very tight together, so the dozer didn't get much cushion when pushing it around."

The 463rd Engineer Battalion detachment commander, Army Capt. Shawn McNabb, commented that working out here gives the troops operator time, and participating in training like this is a great experience for them.

"The best thing about this is the training we get to do here," said Difabrizio.  "We're bringing our platoon out here so everybody has a chance to train on the equipment and get a feel for the terrain."

This training gives the unit good exposure to what other branches of the service do in the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa region, McNabb said.

"It's a different environment for us to work here on the beach, because being in the Army, we mainly work inland," explained McNabb. "This gives us an insight of how the Marines operate and work here in CJTF-HOA."

Seeing the bulldozers rapid progress, McNabb said his troops are expert equipment operators. "Since we're a reserve unit, (the operators) do this everyday of their lives in the civilian world. We may have cleared (this beach) faster than an active duty unit, only because they don't get to do it as often as we do.  Some of the troops in the unit have over 20 years of service, so they've been doing this since they were 18 years old - they're really fast and work really well."

"It's great to be working with professional engineers out here, to be working with someone who knows (exactly) what they're doing," said Marine Maj. Jacques Pelletier, task force engineer. "They're mission oriented - they want to get out here and get the job done. They're very quick, yet safe and effective."

Working in a joint environment like this is a necessity these days. The more services work together, even at a simple operation like this, the more services benefit from completing operations together, said Pelletier.

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