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U.S. service members with Task Force 61/2 (TF 61/2) pose for a group photo at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, Aug. 16, 2023. TF 61/2 was deployed in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe areas of operation.

U.S. service members with Task Force 61/2 (TF 61/2) pose for a group photo at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, Aug. 16, 2023. TF 61/2 was deployed in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe areas of operation. (Jack Labrador/U.S. Marine Corps)

The 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade is back home at Camp Lejeune, N.C., following an eight-month deployment in the 6th Fleet area of operations.

The brigade deployed for the second time as Task Force 61/2, headquartered in Naples, Italy. While under the tactical control of TF 61/2, Marines and Sailors from seven task groups and rotational forces conducted exercises and port visits across two continents and 20 countries, including in the High North, the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea region, and the Gulf of Guinea, according to a Marine Corps news release.

The brigade began the deployment with exercise Baltic Operations 2023, or BALTOPS 23, a two-week exercise in June that involved the U.S., Britain, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Turkey and 13 other countries. The task force then supported the Spanish Flotilla Exercise (FLOTEX) 23, and in late July coordinated efforts to combat wildfires in Greece.

The task force also supported Large Scale Exercise 23 in August and the Georgian and U.S. Army-led exercise Agile Spirit 23 in September. Also in September, the task force participated in Archipelago Endeavor 23, an integrated Swedish and Marine Corps field training exercise, and oversaw Exercise Lisa Azul 23, a bilateral training exercise between Spanish and U.S. Marines.

Next up was Exercise Northern Coasts 2023, a Baltic Sea exercise focused on the collective defense of NATO Allies in the area, and Exercise Northern Challenge 2023, an annual exercise led by the Icelandic Coast Guard, which included explosive ordnance disposal and improvised explosive device disposal training. This was first year the Marine Corps participated in the exercise, according to the release.

After Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, the task force shifted focus to provide support to forces preparing to operate in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It also participated in the Finnish-led Exercise Freezing Winds.

“We planned and executed more exercises and played a crucial role in real world operations, including the firefighting operations in Greece and operations in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Priddy said. “As a task force, we gained real-world experience in the employment of forces utilizing Force Design concepts and crisis response actions. … The 2d MEB team did a tremendous job, and I am proud of everything our Marines and sailors accomplished throughout our deployment.”

Brian McElhiney is a digital editor and occasional reporter for Stars and Stripes. He has worked as a music reporter and editor for publications in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Oregon. One of his earliest journalistic inspirations came from reading Stars and Stripes as a kid growing up in Okinawa, Japan.

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