CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Warriors of Marine Forces UNITAS (MARFORUNITAS), II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), are scheduled to return to North Carolina next month, following agricultural inspections and wash-down of their vehicles and equipment.
The Marines under the command of Maj. John D. Hicks, departed in July aboard the USS Gunston Hall. Deployment highlights included combined amphibious operations and small unit tactics and cross-training in the Central and South American countries of Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, as well as the African countries of South Africa and Ghana, according to Capt. Stephen L. Castora of Danville, N.J., executive officer and operations officer for both the UNITAS deployment and the West African Training Cruise 02.
"Peru was probably our most comprehensive exercise," said Castora. "We did everything live-fire, from a pre-dawn amphibious live-fire assault to weapons cross-training on every weapons system we brought with us, from the M9 9mm to the tube launched, optically tracked, wire command link guided missile (TOW). We also did nonlethal weapons and noncombatant evacuation operations training in Salinas and Ancon."
"Each country had its own little thing we'll remember," said Castora. "We trained with some great foreign military personnel and made some great friends."
Combat training with foreign military units was not the only item on the leathernecks' agenda during the deployment however. While in Colombia and Ecuador, the Marines helped paint and refurbish two schools in a community relations effort to help local children, according to Gunnery Sgt. Scott L. Mastranunzio of Palm Beach, Fla., UNITAS communications chief.
"It was a good float," said Mastranunzio. "The Sept. 11 incident really hampered a lot of the training we did. It was good, quality training on the South American side and a lot of goodwill training on the West African side. The Marines enjoyed it - UNITAS is a unique situation for small unit leaders."