CAMP LEJEUNE - The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) have been extended due to operational commitments in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of responsibility until further notice.
"It's heartbreaking," said Jessica Alcala of the delayed homecoming. Alcala's husband is deployed with the 24th MEU.
A colonel with the 24th MEU tells us the extension is due to tensions in the Mediterranean.
"We were expecting everybody to be coming home this weekend," said Lt. Col. Aaron Adams, Executive Officer of the 24th MEU. "However due to higher headquarters requirements, we've been told that the MEU needs to hang out in the Mediterranean."
Late last week, the 24th MEU and IWO ARG were directed to stay in theater until otherwise directed, delaying the 24th MEU's and IWO ARG's return to their home bases at Camp Lejeune and Norfolk, Va. Their regularly scheduled deployment started in March.
The Alcalas have a 5-year-old daughter. Jessica has chosen not to tell her, fearing it would make her too sad. Jessica hadn't previously told her daughter an exact date that her father would return.
Lt. Col. Adams said the MEU is a crisis response unit, and therefore, it's not uncommon for a deployment to be extended. Adams said unlike the 24th MEU, the three prior MEU's were called to deploy early. "We were able to do our full 6-month work-up," said Adams, "unlike our predecessors who had to leave 3 months early."
When asked if the deployment was postponed due to the conflict in Gaza, Lt. Col. Adams said, "we've been on call for the nation to do whatever has been deemed required, and right now with the uncertainty in the world, that's where they want us to be at."
It's unclear whether the ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will change the assignment for the 24th MEU. Calls to the unit's Camp Lejeune office were not answered Wednesday afternoon.
Camp Lejeune officials said Tuesday that there are currently no specific plans for the 24th MEU or IWO ARG to be employed, but their continued presence in the region is a prudent measure to allow the Navy/Marine Corps team to respond to any crisis or contingency, if directed.
The 24th MEU consists of 2,300 Marines and Sailors embarked across the three amphibious assault ships of the IWO ARG - USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7), USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) and USS New York (LPD 21).