Story by Sgt. Alicia R. Leaders
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. – An era in Marine Corps history came to an end when the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force officially cased the unit colors during a deactivation ceremony at the Goettge Memorial Field House aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, July 14, 2015.
On Jan. 24, 2013, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey rescinded the Direct Combat Exclusion Rule; Services to Expand Integration of Women into Previously Restricted Occupations and Units. Shortly after the rescission, the GCEITF was stood up.
The GCEITF activated last fall and more than 600 Marines and sailors formed the unit to conduct integrated, gender-neutral training using a battalion landing team model to support the evaluation of the physical performance of participating Marines in the execution of individual and collective training tasks associated with the ground combat element.
Organization of the task force reflected the functional military occupational specialties to later be assessed by Marine Corps Operational Test and Evaluation Activity at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, in which the task force spent approximately three and a half months undergoing a rigorous physical and mental assessment that traversed the Mojave Desert; the mountains of Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center Bridgeport, California; and the Pacific waters of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
The task force consisted of Company A, representing (0311) rifleman; Company B, boasting mechanized roles of (1812) M1A1 tank crewman, (1833) amphibious assault vehicle crewman and (0313) light armored vehicle crewman; Weapons Company, further representing the infantry in (0331) machine gunner, (0341) mortarman, and (0351) assaultman and (0352) anti-tank missileman; and Battery A, showcasing the (0811) field artillery cannoneer MOS. The task force was rounded out with Headquarters and Service Company, which included an Engineer Platoon of (1371) combat engineers.
Brig. Gen. Robert Castellvi, deputy commanding general, II Marine Expeditionary Force, was present as the reviewing officer, and pinned the task forces’ first and only award, the Navy meritorious unit commendation, onto the colors.
“The GCEITF accomplished everything it was asked to do and then some,” Castellvi said. “It is my privilege to pin on this meritorious unit commendation. Wear your meritorious unit commendation with pride and swagger, because you have earned it. Congratulations on a job well done.”
Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, GCEITF Commanding Officer, then expressed his gratitude and experience to the audience, and to the Marines and sailors he led over the past year.
“This is a historic chapter in the Marine Corps, as we close a piece of Marine Corps history that will lead us into the future,” St. Clair said. “It was no small task to build the task force. Our female volunteers first had to go to their MOS schools and successfully complete that training before they came to us. It didn’t leave us a whole lot of time to prepare Marines that came from all over the Marine Corps, from the operating forces to the reserve component. It was all done under the leadership of our NCOs, SNCOs and officers.”
St. Clair gave thanks to the families of Marines and sailors; Maj. Gen. Lewis Craparotta, commanding general, MCAGCC, Brig. Gen. George Smith, Jr., director, Marine Corps Force Integration Office; I Marine Expeditionary Force, and Paul Johnson, head researcher, MCOTEA.
Following his remarks, St. Clair and Sgt. Maj. Robin C. Fortner, GCEITF sergeant major, cased the unit colors as the task force looked on, together, for the last time.
“Marines, thank you for your commitment to each other,” St. Clair said. “You took care of each other, you pushed through pain, and your actions and your performance will shape this organization for years to come. I am humbled to have stood beside you. Semper Fi.”
From October 2014 to July 2015, the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force conducted individual and collective skills training in designated combat arms occupational specialties in order to facilitate the standards based assessment of the physical performance of Marines in a simulated operating environment performing specific ground combat arms tasks.