Marine Expeditionary Unit

Marine Expeditionary Unit
A Landing Craft Utility returns to USS Belleau Wood with members of the 11th MEU.

A Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU, pronounced Myuu), formerly called Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), is the smallest Marine Air-Ground Task Force in the United States Fleet Marine Force.[1] Each MEU is an expeditionary quick reaction force, deployed and ready for immediate response to any crisis.[2]

The Marine Expeditionary Unit is normally built around the building blocks of a MAGTF: a reinforced Marine infantry battalion is the ground combat element, the aviation combat element is a composite helicopter squadron, a battalion-sized logistics combat element, and a command element. Troop strength is about 2,200 and usually commanded by a colonel, and is deployed from an amphibious assault ship.



Marines loading on a Landing Craft Utility in 1999

The MEU is unique in that its air and ground combat elements are combined with a logistics combat element under one commander; other services do not unite the command of air and ground forces until much higher command levels.

When the United States Army integrates with Air Force assets, it typically is at the theater or corps level, with a general commanding, while at the division level it will integrate with Army aviation, which can be organized as organic at the battalion level.

The MEU's ground combat element also combines artillery, light armor and tanks at a much lower level than was common in the Army until the development of the brigade combat team early in the War on Terror, with a similar concept, the combat command, being utilized in World War II.

This air-ground task force concept is designed to thoroughly exploit the combat power inherent in air and ground assets by closely integrating them into a single force. The MEU brings all the supplies and logistical support it needs to sustain itself for quick mission accomplishment or to pave the way for any follow-up forces. This self-sustainment allows more flexibility in disposition and operations of forces, and allows the MEU to initiate operations sooner and let support catch up later, without having to wait for external logistical support to begin a mission. Deployments on U.S. Navy amphibious assault ships allows MEUs to seabase around the globe, ready for deployment at short notice.

A typical MEU has approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors. It is equipped with:

Qty Nomenclature Element
4 M1A1 main battle tank ground
7 to 16 Light Armored Vehicle ground
15 Amphibious Assault Vehicle ground
6 155mm howitzer: M198 or M777 ground
8 M252 81mm mortar ground
8 BGM-71 Tube Launched, Optically Tracked, Wire Guided (TOW) missile weapon system ground
8 FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile ground
4 to 6 AH-1W SuperCobra attack helicopters aviation
3 UH-1N Twin Huey utility helicopter aviation
12 CH-46E Sea Knight medium lift assault helicopter aviation
4 CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift assault helicopter aviation
6 AV-8B Harrier jet aviation
2 KC-130 Hercules re-fueler/transport aircraft
Note: usually maintained in the continental United States
2 Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit logistics
1 LMT 3000 water purification unit logistics
4 Tractor, Rubber Tire, Articulated Steering logistics
2 TX51-19M Rough Terrain Forklift logistics
3 D7 bulldozer logistics
1 Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement dump truck logistics
4 Mk48 Logistics Vehicle System logistics
7 500 gallon water containers multiple
63 Humvee multiple
30 Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement trucks multiple

Many types of equipment are, or will soon, undergo a transitory phase as they are replaced. Some examples include the MV-22 Osprey replacing the CH-46, Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle replacing the AAV, and the H-1 upgrade program (where the AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom replace the AH-1W and UH-1N).


Ground Combat Element

Marines from the 13th MEU land for Operation Bright Star in Egypt.

The Ground Combat Element (GCE) is based around the Battalion Landing Team (BLT), an infantry battalion reinforced with an artillery battery, Amphibious Assault Vehicle platoon, combat engineer platoon, light armored reconnaissance company, tank platoon, reconnaissance platoon, and other units as the mission and circumstances require. The total strength is approximately 1,100 members.

The reconnaissance platoon provides the basic element for the Maritime Special Purpose Force. This force consists of four elements. The assault platoon (a direct action platoon augmented from Force Recon), security (a selected infantry platoon from the battalion landing team), reconnaissance and surveillance assets, and a headquarters section. The total strength is approximately 350 Marines and sailors.

Aviation Combat Element

A UH-1N from the 26th MEU flies past an AH-1W on the flight deck of USS Kearsarge.

The Aviation Combat Element (ACE) is a Marine Composite Squadron (Reinforced) composed of a Medium/Heavy Helicopter Squadron augmented with three other types of helicopters, one detachment of amphibious flight-deck-capable jets, and a Marine Air Control Group Detachment with air traffic control, direct air support, and anti-aircraft assets.

Logistics Combat Element

Marines from the 22nd MEU load a forklift onto a Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement.

The Logistics Combat Element (LCE) (formerly Combat Service Support Element or CSSE) is based around the MEU Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) (formerly MEU Service Support Group or MSSG). It contains all the logistics specialists and equipment necessary for the MEU to support and sustain itself for up to 15 days in an austere expeditionary environment. It includes service support (postal and disbursing), medical, dental, intermediate maintenance, intermediate supply (consumables and secondary reparables), transportation (distribution and landing support), explosive ordnance disposal, military police, utilities production and distribution, bulk fuels, internal communications, and various other technical experts. It consists of approximately 300 Marines and Sailors.

Command Element

The Command Element (CE), which includes the MEU commander and his supporting staff, provides command and control over the other three elements. It includes specialized detachments for naval gunfire, reconnaissance, surveillance, specialized communications, radio reconnaissance (SIGINT), electronic warfare, intelligence and counterintelligence, and public affairs missions. The overall strength is about 200 Marines and sailors.

Expeditionary Strike Group

Recently, MEUs have been deployed within an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) in the Mediterranean, the Western Pacific, and periodically, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. An ESG is typically composed of three amphibious ships that embark the necessary troops and equipment and are escorted by a guided missile cruiser (CG) and guided missile destroyers (DDG) and submarine (SSN) support.

Before the ESG, MEUs were typically deployed as part of an Amphibious Readiness Group.

The MEU Cycle

MEUs maintain their subordinate elements in fifteen month cycles: a nine months stateside (with six set aside for training), and a six month deployment aboard ship. These cycles ensure that at least two of the seven MEUs are deployed forward at any given time.

Interim / Build-Up Period: Upon completion of a deployment, the Marine Expeditionary Unit remains "Special Operations Capable" for approximately one month, prepared to respond to events around the world. The MEU then releases its major subordinate elements (MSEs), retaining only its command element. This period provides the command element a chance to rotate select personnel and begin planning for the addition of newly assigned MSEs and “work-up” training. When the MSEs are received, the MEU begins six months of intense pre-deployment training.

Work-Up Period: Training during the six month work-up period is often referred to as "crawl, walk, run". The Marines and sailors progress through curriculum and exercises that teach individual, small unit, and unit tactics while integrating the separate MEU elements into a cohesive, flexible and powerful force. The work-up period includes training in many combat and noncombat skills, to include:

Exercises conducted during the work-up period can include:

  • Amphibious Squadron—MEU Integration Training (PMINT)
  • Realistic Urban Training Exercise (RUT), formerly Training in an Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX)
  • Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise (ESGEX)
  • Special Operations Capable Certification Exercise (CERTEX or SOCCEX); prior to deployment, the MEU receives certification as Special Operations Capable and then referred to as a "MEU (SOC)". There is very little within the capability of a MEU(SOC) that meets the level of special operations practiced by United States Special Operations Command, but instead refers to the ability of the MEU to perform missions outside that of the traditional missions of its component units.

Deployment: Following the work-up, the MEU deploys for six months in support of geographic combatant commanders. During this time, the MEU is a forward-deployed, self-sustaining force that combatant commanders can direct to accomplish a variety of special operations and conventional missions.

The missions may include:

  • Conventional Operations (Amphibious Assaults and Raids)
  • Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP)
  • Humanitarian Assistance Operations (HAO)
  • Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO)
  • Security Operations.

List of MEUs

West Coast MEUs

West Coast MEUs fall under I Marine Expeditionary Force, and their main area of operations includes the western Pacific and Indian oceans (to include the Persian Gulf).[3]

Official Name Insignia Headquarters
11th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California
13th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California
15th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California

East Coast MEUs

East Coast MEUs fall under II Marine Expeditionary Force, and maintains a presence in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.[3]

Official Name Insignia Headquarters
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
24th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
26th Marine Expeditionary Unit
Updated MEU Trans.jpg
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

Japan MEU

The 31st MEU is the only permanently forward-deployed MEU, maintaining a presence in the Pacific Ocean at all times as part of III Marine Expeditionary Force.[3]

Official Name Insignia Headquarters
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit
080101 NEW 31st MEU LOGO.jpg
Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler,
Okinawa, Japan

See also


  1. ^ What is a MEU? II MEF website
  2. ^ What is a MEU? 22nd MEU website
  3. ^ a b c profile at

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