Marine general leads strike group into history[MIGRATE]

By Lance Cpl. Jared Plotts | June 03, 2004

Brig. Gen. Joseph V. Medina, commander of the Belleau Wood Expeditionary Strike Group (BWESG), led 4,000 Marines and sailors into Pearl Harbor Thursday for five days of training before heading directly to the Western Pacific in support of the war on terrorism.

Medina, the first Marine general ever assigned commander of naval ships, and his seven-ship fleet, left San Diego to deploy for an undetermined amount of time as a direct response to the U.S. Central Command's request for forces to conduct future operations.

Medina received his commission in 1976, two years before the USS Belleau Wood (LHA-3) received its commission.

Medina also served as commander for several major pacific exercises before relinquishing command of the 3rd Marine Regiment to command Expeditionary Strike Group Three.

The BWESG plays a critical part in the military's new Fleet response plan (FRP).

"This is a great tool. This strike group gives us the opportunity to go places we couldn't go before," Medina said.

"We deploy for more specific missions now, rather than going out to sea and training continuously," Medina continued. "Our schedule originally had us deploying in late June, but the fleet response plan has us out on shorter notice with more uncertain deployment time. A great advantage of the FRP is that we'll deploy less."

The FRP was developed to meet today's immediate response requirements and provide combat power. It can carry out humanitarian assistance and non-combatant evacuation operations as well as combat operations in support of joint force commanders throughout Central Command's area of responsibility.

Medina said it was interesting combining the Marine Corps and Navy staffs together for the ESG.

"We have experts at every spectrum of the field. I think all the knowledge our staff has collectively will only help us become more proficient in our mission," he said.

Capt. Earl L. Gay, commanding officer of the USS Belleau Wood, agreed.

"I think we're lucky to have him," said Gay. "I also think our sailors find it interesting."

The Belleau Wood's stop in Hawaii plays a key role during its deployments, according to Medina.

Medina said in his time assigned here before, he recognized the quality of facilities here. The pause will also give his Marines and sailors a breather before their journey to the middle east.

While here, Marines will train at Marine Corps Base Hawaii and Schofield Barracks, conducting urban training, patrols and various other exercises before the group's departure.

Meanwhile, sailors will work on getting the ship ready for the long road ahead.

The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) which includes the USS Denver, USS Comstock and USS Belleau Wood left San Diego May 27.  The other elements of the strike group, the USS Mobile Bay and USS Preble from San Diego and the Pearl Harbor-based USS Hopper and USS Charlotte will depart later this month.