Resilient, reliable, ready: 11th MEU enlisted leaders test their limits, refuse to drop pack

GULF OF AQABA 09.09.2019 Photo by Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit Subscribe 99 190909-M-EC058-1077 GULF OF AQABA (Sept. 9, 2019) U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Lourdes Castillo (right), a food preparation specialist with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), receives a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal during an awards ceremony aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th MEU are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the Western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck/Released)

WADI SHADIYA, Jordan – Three noncommissioned officers from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s command element supported more than 700 Marines and Sailors through logistical and administrative expertise at Wadi Shadiya, Jordan, during Exercise Eager Lion 2019.

Sgt. Lourdes Castillo, a food preparation specialist; Sgt. Charles Hampton, an administrative specialist; and Sgt. Jesse Szwast, an ammunition technician, worked together to accomplish tasks well beyond what was expected of them.

Castillo, being a cook, quickly learned and performed the duties of a logistics chief, a role typically assigned to Marines one or two ranks more senior than her, despite having no previous experience in that role. Over the course of the two week exercise, she ensured Marines and Sailors were provided with more than 2,200 cases of bottled water; 28,800 meals, ready to eat; 17,970 pounds of ice; and 2,226 gallons of fuel. She supported Marines from the MEU’s command element, ground combat element, logistics combat element, and air combat element.

“I’ve learned a lot,” said Castillo. “It’s a whole different experience. Being able to interact with Marines from all elements of the MEU was a great learning experience.”

With confidence from her leadership, Castillo stepped up into the onsite logistics chief role at Wadi Shadiya when her leaders were re-tasked in other areas of Jordan. While managing and coordinating all classes of logistics for operations in the wadi, she was able to support more than 700 Marines and Sailors in a challenging and austere environment. This included personnel from Marine and Navy units outside the MEU such as 2nd Medical Battalion, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, and Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team Central Command.

“Her dedication to the mission, drive to succeed and attention to detail have been a key piece to our success as a MEU in ensuring the training units are set up for success in their mission,” said Maj. Joseph Sawyer, the 11th MEU lead planner in Jordan.

Castillo was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for her actions throughout the exercise.

“The main goal for NCOs out here is simple: to get the mission done,” said Hampton. “By executing orders, handling things responsibly, and keeping everything organized, we can ensure that happens.”

Despite the large amount of troops moving in and out of the battlespace, Hampton was able to fulfill his duties as the leading administrative specialist. He passed personnel status reports to higher headquarters, maintaining full accountability of more than 700 Marines and Sailors over five total training sites throughout Jordan. He created an efficient system by communicating with every participating company’s leadership to ensure proper numbers of all personnel were received, which helped expedite the accountability process regardless of the time of day or environmental conditions.

“NCOs are where the work gets done. Without NCOs, there would be no order, no discipline, and things wouldn’t get done,” said Hampton.

“No matter where you go, you need to have some support from the command element,” said Szwast. “We have some of the strongest NCOs on this MEU here in the CE.”

Szwast was able to work in every facet of the ammunition field. Some of his duties included receiving, storing, issuing, and handling ammunition that was sent from ship to shore during an amphibious offload. After receiving the allotted ammunition, he ensured that it went to the right places it needed to be, and was safely stored and utilized. He helped provide the Marines with more than 225,710 expendable rounds of different types of ammunition. He also helped with numerous other tasks such as setting up concertina wire, physical security measures and the setup of the field ammunition supply point.

Szwast has been an invaluable member of the forward planning team’s time in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations and serves as an excellent example for all to follow because of his work ethic and reliability, according to Sawyer.

“NCOs are the backbone of the Marine Corps,” said Szwast. “We continue to prove why we earned that title. We just keep our head forward, and be there to take action. What needs to get done, gets done.”

Eager Lion, U.S. Central Command’s largest and most complex exercise, is an opportunity to integrate forces in a multilateral environment, operate in realistic terrain and strengthen military-to-military relationships.

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