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Little-known MEBs adapt to multiple missions

Apr. 24, 2012 - 12:36PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 24, 2012 - 12:36PM  |  
Soldiers from the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade conduct sling-load operations in Beaufort, S.C., in April 2011. Getting the word out about the versatile MEBs was a central theme during the annual MEB commanders' conference.
Soldiers from the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade conduct sling-load operations in Beaufort, S.C., in April 2011. Getting the word out about the versatile MEBs was a central theme during the annual MEB commanders' conference. (Sgt. Joshua Edwards / Army)
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One of the Army's most versatile units may also be its least known formation. The Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, which was a product of the Army's modularization effort, is designed to be tailored to meet whatever mission it receives, can provide command and control for up to seven battalions, and is capable of owning battlespace in combat.

However, not many people know about the MEB or its capabilities, said Col. Mick McCabe, the Training and Doctrine Command capabilities manager for maneuver support.

"One of the things we continually work on here is … advertising ourselves and noting to the Army as a whole what our capabilities are," he said. "Because the MEBs are part of what came out of modularity, this is still a new formation. Even though we have 13 units that have been [deployed], with four more to come, the MEB community is still misunderstood by a lot of folks."

Getting the word out about the MEB was a central theme during the annual commanders' conference that brought together the commanders and command sergeants major of the Army's 21 MEBs, as well as experts from the Combined Arms Center, the National Guard and Army Reserve. The conference, which wrapped up April 12 at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., also looped in leaders from the 648th MEB of the Georgia National Guard, which is deployed to Afghanistan, McCabe said.

"What we really want to get across is my office can't be the only proponent out there talking about what the MEB can do, to get commanders and future commanders to understand who we are as a community, and what the MEB can do for you," McCabe said. "If you're not a relevant organization in today's austere environment, you're probably not going to be around very long."

The Army has 21 MEBs — two in the active Army, 16 in the Guard and three in the Army Reserve.

Thirteen of them have been deployed, having served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. When deployed, an MEB comprises about 3,000 soldiers.

Command and control

At its core, the MEB has a robust headquarters, a brigade support battalion and a signal company, McCabe said. The intent is to have O-6 level leadership and a strong planning staff that can provide command and control to whatever mission is tasked to the unit, he said.

After that, subordinate units, typically engineer, military police or chemical battalions, are assigned to the MEB, depending on its mission, McCabe said. Sometimes, infantry battalions or explosive ordnance disposal and air defense artillery units also are assigned to an MEB.

For example, when the 1st MEB of Fort Polk, La., deployed to Afghanistan, a French infantry battalion was assigned to the unit, McCabe said. The 648th, which is in Afghanistan, is tasked with taking care of the cluster of NATO bases in Kabul, to include providing a quick-reaction force, running the mayor cells on each base, overseeing the logistics and contract services, and conducting force protection, he said.

In Iraq, the 149th MEB from the Kentucky Guard was tasked with shutting down operations at Victory Base Complex as part of the U.S. withdrawal last year.

The MEBs also run the multinational battle group in Kosovo.

"Each of those missions requires a little bit different set of enablers underneath them to complete the mission," McCabe said. "Every MEB that has gone downrange so far has looked different from the one before it and the one after it."

Army doctrine allows the MEB to have command and control of up to seven battalions.

"Typically, what we look at is two of any type of battalion," McCabe said. "That's two engineer battalions, two MP battalions, two chemical battalions and a tactical fighting force."

If a mission dictates more than two of a certain type of battalion, the mission likely is not an MEB mission anymore but one more suited to a functional brigade, he said. For example, if the mission calls for three engineer battalions, the tasking may be better suited to an engineer brigade, he said.

The MEB can also be used at home, McCabe said.

Right now, the 1st MEB is the Army's lead element in the Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Force, or DCRF. This role is rotated between the two active-duty MEBs — the 1st MEB and the 4th MEB at Fort Leonard Wood.

In this role, the MEB with the DCRF mission is on alert to respond to an attack at home.

MEBs also have been used to provide command and control for Guard units that are called to respond to natural disasters.

The MEB plays a critical — and flexible — role in the Army, McCabe said.

"You get a solid planning staff with an O-6 command element that is versatile to get out there and do what needs to be done," he said. "And I'm not taking away combat power by having to send a [brigade combat team] out to do something another O-6 command can do."

In the future, as the Army continues to transition and work out the future of the force, McCabe said he does not anticipate major changes in the number of MEBs in the Army.

Conference attendees discussed assigning one MEB to each active-duty division, McCabe said.

"That would be optimal, especially considering the MEB should be in control of a division's rear area," he said.

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