The enemy struck the 50,000-strong contin- gent with I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) with heavy armor, crew-served
weapons and a maneuverable force. Soldiers tried to
infiltrate coalition bases and cripple the high-tech
command and control structure with savvy network
attacks. Casualties mounted over one four-day stretch,
when the 1st Marine Division lost more than 2,000
men fighting to unhitch the invading force.
It was a virtual war: Less than 2,000 of the Marines,
Sailors and Soldiers were real participants. Unlike
many command-post exercises, this one happened in
the field, working from small command posts in mid-February at Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine
Corps Air Station, about 45 miles south in San Diego.
In the MEF command-level exercise, or MEFEX,
senior commanders and their staffs grappled with the
challenges of fighting a well-equipped and formidable
enemy in a conventional, force-on-force war. While
operations in Iraq and Afghanistan centered mostly on
counterinsurgency, the MEF faced a high-end threat.
“We are relearning that out here in [conducting]
maneuver over distances [with] combined arms in an
offensive, dynamic manner. It’s been
the ‘march up from Baghdad’ that’s
really played itself out,” said LtGen
David H. Berger, the I MEF com-
mander at Camp Pendleton, refer-
ring to the MEF’s offensive in Iraq in
2003 to unseat Saddam Hussein and
his military forces. “The scenario out
here is high end. We have not done
that in a long time.”
The 10-day exercise was the
first time since 2003 that I MEF
The MEF encountered a heavily mechanized enemy
force with credible cyber warfare capability and fixed-
“If we can prepare and fight at that level, at that
pace and in that tempo ... then we’ll be prepared to
handle something less than that,” Berger added.
The exercise let the 1st Marine Division commander
and his staff independently test and assess themselves.
In exercising with the three-star-level command, “we
are not grading our own homework,” MajGen Larry
Nicholson said in a March 2 interview at Camp
Pendleton. “Our ability to fight as part of the MEF,
focusing on being the GCE [ground combat element],
was of great benefit to us.
“We were fighting, dismounted, against a pretty
heavily armored force. That’s the conventional warfare
that we really haven’t done for the last 13 years that we
really need to think about. It made us think and con-
I MEF exercises its ability to fight a conventional war
By GIDGET FUENTES, Special Correspondent
For the first time since 2003, I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF)
took its staff and major subordinate command to the field for a
; The MEF exercise scenario’s high-level threats challenged units
in ways different than counterinsurgency.
; The key lesson for a high command at war: Don’t get caught up
with “the now.” Let subordinates fight the battle. Planning ahead
keeps the bullets and beans flowing to the front-line fighting forces.
; Expect to see more “live” troops participate at Dawn Blitz this
fall and at next year’s MEFEX.