The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (IWOARG) and the embarked 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) reached a new milestone of 90 days underway with zero COVID-19 cases since the beginning of their deployment, May 21, 2021.
"The safety of our Sailors and Marines is a top priority and preventing COVID-19 is one way to keep our personnel safe and fully mission capable," said Capt. Darren Nelson, commodore, Amphibious Squadron Four. "By maintaining high mission readiness we are able to consistently support our partners and allies."
The roughly 4,300 Sailors and Marines of the IWOARG and 24th MEU have participated in several NATO exercises, bi-lateral exercises, distinguished visitor visits, and ports of call during this 90 day period. In addition, Sailors and Marines are stationed at shore locations throughout the SIXTH Fleet area of operations. There have been zero cases of COVID-19 during this time.
“The COVID-19 prevention and mitigation measures we practice with our Navy counterparts directly contributes to our sustainment of a healthy and resilient fighting force,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Eric D. Cloutier, commanding officer, 24th MEU. “Keeping our Marines and Sailors healthy allows us to maintain a high operational tempo, ensuring that we remain ready to carry out our mission.”
After reaching the 30-day mark underway without a case of COVID-19 the entire ARG/MEU relaxed some COVID mitigation procedures while maintaining their COVID-free bubble. Gyms and barbershops re-opened, distancing restrictions during meal hours were reduced, and masks were made optional for wear.
Prior to embarkation every Sailor and Marine participated in a mandatory restriction-of-movement (ROM) for 14 days. Additionally, over 94% of the ARG/MEU voluntarily opted to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“What makes the IWOARG and 24th MEU 90 days COVID free unique is that the ships have had port visits in Europe and the ships have had distinguished guests aboard,” said Capt. William Wallace, officer in charge of Fleet Surgical Team Six. “In those events we might have seen someone contract COVID-19 yet with our thorough mitigation efforts we were able to protect our most vital asset, Sailors and Marines.”
The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group and 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have roughly 4,300 Sailors and Marines. The ARG-MEU is deployed to Sixth Fleet in support of regional NATO Allies and partners as well as U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.
The IWOARG consists of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50), and the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17). Embarked detachments for the IWOARG include Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) Four, Fleet Surgical Team (FST) Six, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 26, Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 21, Naval Beach Group (NBG) Two, Beach Master Unit (BMU) Two, Assault Craft Unit (ACU) Two and Four, and Sailors from Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) Two.
The 24th MEU mission is to provide the United States with a forward-deployed, amphibious force-in-readiness capable of executing missions across the full spectrum of combat and military operations other than war and consists of four basic elements – a command element, a ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/8, a logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 24, and an aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 Reinforced.
U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.