Typically, troops get their orders to deploy many months in advance. In times of stability, you're looking at twelve months gone and then twelve months at home. Everyone in the unit has ample time to get their ducks in a row before heading off to war.
But when sh*t hits the fan, the United States Armed Forces can gear up entire brigade-sized elements of troops and put boots on the ground in just under eighteen hours.
Now, getting troops ready to go isn't the hard part — troops usually keep a rucksack packed and a rifle on standby in the arms room. It's the logistical nightmare that comes with transporting all of the required gear that makes this feat truly impressive.
At any moment, the Currahee are ready to drop in like it was D-Day all over again.
(U.S. Army photo by Major Kamil Sztalkoper)
In the Army, brigades that are officially ready to deploy are called Division Ready Brigades. In the Marine Corps, they're called Marine Expeditionary Units. To be certified as one of these units, there are several requirements, including pre-deployment training, gear staging, and mountains of paperwork.
The 506th Regimental Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, KY, earned "reactionary force" status in 2007 and, impressively, has maintained it ever since.
"The purpose of the division ready brigade is to quickly move Soldiers and equipment to support emergency situations requiring DoD support," said Col. Thomas Vail, the then-506th RCT commander told the Fort Campbell Courier. "We are well prepared for this task in terms of leadership, Soldier discipline, and staff expertise. The 506th RCT has conducted rehearsals and back briefs just like any combat mission tasked to the brigade."
They earned this by staging a mock deployment to get everyone, including their gear and vehicles, ready to go to Fort Irwin's National Training Center. All vehicles needed to be staged, all artillery guns needed to be prepped, and all connexes had to be packed with everything they'd need within 72 hours of landing.
These Marines are always on call... Ready to be tagged in.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman)
To remain ready, some units have pre-staged gear that they never touch. As you can imagine, having and stashing gear only to be used for rapid deployment requires cash — which, unfortunately, isn't in excess for many units.
The Marines, however, have always been known for doing more with less. In this case, they do this by keeping their Marines on a fifteen month cycle: they spend nine months training stateside and six months aboard a Navy vessel offshore.
They strategically place their Marines on the Naval vessels nearest to where they expect to be fighting and stay ready to hop onto landing crafts at any moment. The Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit take this one step further by remaining permanently forward-deployed out of Okinawa.
Maj. Jacob R. Godby, the 31st MEU assistant operations officer, said,
"The size of our AO requires us to train for a wide variety of missions which requires an extensive range of equipment and the best trained Marines anywhere. In Okinawa, we have the resources and training grounds that allow us to train for almost any mission we could be tasked with. MEUEX allows us to begin putting the pieces together as we move closer to embarking for our next patrol."
It's a logistical headache, but it's a challenge that only the most intense units have been able to successfully pull off. If there's crisis in need of the U.S. Armed Forces, these guys can be there within the day, letting other troops bring in the rest of the gear after them to establish a more permanent presence.