The Marine Corpsí premier rapid reaction units are its seven Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs). Three 2000-man MEUs are maintained forward-deployed aboard three-ship amphibious squadrons (Phibrons) forming task forces called Amphibious Ready Groups. (ARG)s One ARG is based in Japan, one is maintained in the Indian Ocean by rotating deployments among West Coast units, and another ARG is maintained in the Mid-Atlantic/Mediterranean region by rotating deployments among East Coast units. The Navy and Marine Corps can easily expand the number of combat-ready ARGs from three to five by forming two more MEUs and extending the rotational cycle for CONUS MEUs from 18 to 24 months.
The CONUS based MEUs now undergo an 18-month deployment cycle which consists of three six-month phases. During the first phase, a MEU
just returning from deployment disbands, then reforms with new components.
During the second phase, the newly organized MEU undergoes intense training in
which teamwork and skills are developed. The MEU eventually earns a Special Operations
Capable (SOC) designation to reflect its high-readiness state. During the third phase, the
MEU (SOC) deploys overseas aboard a Phibron as part of an ARG.
MEU (SOC)s could be available for crisis response for a
year if a fourth six-month "ready" phase were added. Upon completion of the second phase in
which a MEU is fully trained and SOC qualified, it would not deploy, but stand ready on
72-hour alert. The ARG ships would remain in port loaded with the MEU (SOC) supplies and most
equipment. The ready MEU (SOC) Marines would live in their quarters ashore and conduct some local training. They
may embark for a few short ARG exercises, but most nights will be spent at home on an alert.
This "ready" phase will allow most nights at home to compensate
families for the previous six months of intensive training and the forthcoming
Five well-trained MEU(SOC)s will also enhance the Corpsí ability to
rapidly amass a large amphibious force. The last attempt occurred during August of 1990 when the 4th MEB (equivalent
to three MEUs) was formed. It took over three weeks to assemble and embark units aboard 13 ships. This
unit had no full-scale training opportunities prior to deployment, and embarkation was a mess. Tons
of gear was left on the pier and the improperly loaded ships were required to dock and reconfigure after
arriving in the Indian Ocean.