NEW ORLEANS -- During the summer of 2016, Mr. Nathan Wood graduated from Harvard Law School. Months later on March 1, 2017, Capt. Nathan Wood joined approximately 5,000 other Marines and Sailors attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and deployed to Europe and the Middle East.
Since World War II, in nearly every crisis, the Marine Corps has deployed projection forces with the ability to move ashore with sufficient sustainability for prolonged operations. These forces have been organized into Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTF), a combination of air, ground and support assets. Marine Expeditionary Units, such as the 24th MEU, operate continuously across the globe and provide the President and the unified combatant commanders with a forward-deployed, flexible and responsive sea-based MAGTF.
The 24th MEU currently serves aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19), and amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50). It provides crisis response and contingency support for combatant commanders. Composed entirely of active duty Marine Corps units, the vast majority of the MEU’s personnel serve full-time. But Wood’s road to the 24th MEU was a bit more complex.
Prior to the deployment, Wood drilled with 2nd Civil Affairs Group, a reserve unit based in Washington, D.C. that falls under Force Headquarters Group, Marine Forces Reserve. Civil Affairs Marines serve as a critical link between local civilians and military units that operate in their countries. Operations in the counterinsurgency environments of Iraq and Afghanistan relied heavily on civil affairs teams for missions like helping civilian populations build infrastructure. And the Marine Corps’ civil affairs capability, which resides exclusively in the Marine Corps Reserve, will continue to be in high demand. Reserve Marines, who are doctors, lawyers, engineers or policeman in their civilian careers, can be particularly well-suited to this role.
So, when Wood saw that the 24th MEU was in need of a civil affairs officer, he took the opportunity and volunteered for the deployment. Since mobilizing, Wood has served not only as the civil affairs officer, but also as the current operations officer, a critical billet that drives the very demanding, daily schedule for the MEU.
"Nate is a true "multi-sport athlete”,” said Maj. Chris Niedziocha, the operations officer for the 24th MEU. “He is a thinker, a doer, a leader. He demands excellence of himself and everyone around him. He is a rising tide that lifts all boats. His capacity for work and "can-do" attitude is incredible - nothing fazes him, nothing upsets him. He has taken civil affairs from the periphery and made it part of our standing lines of effort integrating our civil affairs Marines civil-military efforts."
Wood has since moved onto other roles on the MEU staff, now serving as the Future Operations Officer.
“As the Current Operations Officer, I [had] a hand in just about everything the MEU does,” Wood explained. “Now, as the Future Operations Officer, I’m responsible for long-term planning. I lead several operational planning teams and maintain a number of long-range planning documents.”
Having just graduated from Harvard law school, Wood acknowledged how the rigors of academic life have helped him perform on the deployment.
“Law school was terrific preparation for service as a staff officer,” he explained. “The analytical and communication skills I developed have served me well on the MEU staff.”
A CAREER-ENHANCING EXPERIENCE
Although he served on active duty from 2007 – 2013, deploying to Afghanistan during that time, Capt. Wood never had the opportunity to be a part of the MEU, a unique capability that the Marine Corps has and a critical element of its ability to respond to today’s crises.
“I have the best seat in the house for learning how a MEU operates and a staff functions,” he said. “This deployment has been much more than just a deployment,” he added. “It’s really been one long professional military education on amphibious operations and officer development.”
The unique opportunity to serve on this MEU’s staff, therefore, was something too good for Wood to pass up, despite a very busy personal schedule that illustrates the challenges reserve Marines face in balancing family and civilian obligations in order to serve.
“We’ve spent a lot of time over the past several years mapping out our lives so we can fit everything we need to fit, like raising our kids, sustaining our marriage, Emma’s career, law school, drill weekends, job search, prep for drill weekends, etc., into our schedules. It helps that everyone from our extended families to my law school professors and to Emma’s employers has been supportive of our family’s Reserve commitments.”
Since their inception in 1916, Reservists have been participating in nearly every major war since World War 1. With this, time and training are a constant reminder of their commitment to not only their families, but to the branch in which they serve.
Today, Reserve Marines bring unique skills and advanced knowledge from their civilian occupations into their service with the Marine Corps. The breadth of their experience is extensive as it includes occupations such as Wood’s law degree. The Marine Corps has capitalized on this advantage by creating occupations like the Civil Affairs Group, among many others, within the Reserve component.
"Although I can't wait to get home to Emma and our boys, it'll be tough to leave the MEU behind,” said Wood. “Not only have I learned a tremendous amount, but I've also forged friendships and professional relationships that will last well beyond this deployment. I look forward to resuming my civilian career while continuing to serve as a reserve Marine. Balancing the two is far from easy, but more than worth it."