The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was activated on 1 March 1967 as Special Landing Force Alpha, for operations in Vietnam. It made the first of many amphibious deployments from Okinawa on 10 April 1967.
The first operation actually conducted was on 14 Apr 1967, when the MEU conducted a rescue of the crew of the SS Silver Peak, a Panamanian vessel run aground by Typhoon Violet, in vicinity of Minami Ko Shima Island, Japan. Days later, it was committed to Operation Union, a search and destroy mission in Vietnam.
It was during this period of intense combat that Special Landing Force Alpha earned the Presidential Unit Citation. The unit participated in continuing combat operations ashore over the next three years, including the Vietnam Tet counteroffensive in 1969, while returning to Okinawa periodically for re-outfitting and the rotation of forces.
Special Landing Force Alpha was officially designated as the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) on 24 November 1970. Once more the unit returned to the Gulf of Tonkin. This time, however, the 31st MAU would not be committed to overt land operations as the Vietnam War was winding down. The 31st MAU performed presence missions and conducted a series of special operations through May 1971. From June 1971 until April 1975, the 31st MAU conducted numerous deployments to the waters off Vietnam.
The 31st MAU was then directed to the Gulf of Thailand for Operation Eagle Pull, the American Embassy evacuation by air of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which took place on 12 April 1975.
This was followed by participation in Operation Frequent Wind on 29 April 1975 which was the final evacuation of Saigon as North Vietnamese forces entered the city.
1980s and 1990s
The 31st MAU remained the forward-deployed U.S. presence in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. Combat operations were replaced by regional exercises, which allowed training opportunities in a variety of countries. In 1983, the 31st MAU was recalled from a combined exercise with local forces in Kenya, and positioned in the Mediterranean Sea. Its mission from September to October 1983 was to support U.S. peacekeeping forces in Beirut during an intense period of complex political and life-threatening conditions in Lebanon. It was the 31st MAU's last operation of that period and the unit was deactivated in May 1985.
The unit was reactivated as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) on 9 September 1992. In 1994, the unit was relocated to its current home station at Camp Hansen, in Okinawa, Japan.
The flexibility of the MEU was demonstrated with the Iraq crisis in late 1998 regarding the regime not complying with the U.N. weapons inspections process. All four ARG ships had just completed Exercise Foal Eagle off the coast of Korea, and were heading to various port visits for liberty, when they received the call on 14 Nov 1998 to sail immediately to Okinawa to onload the 31st MEU.
A significant portion of the 31st MEU’s 2000 Marines were engaged in urban warfare training in Guam when their message came to return to Okinawa. The rest were still in Okinawa, but approximately a quarter of those were a new infantry battalion, just rotating in from California. The battalion had just two days to gather all their personnel to get ready to deploy.
The 31st MEU and ships’ company personnel started their initial onloads of the ships on 9 November and completed the morning of 11 November. In one night alone, they loaded more than 170 pallets of equipment, weapons, and cargo. In addition, a C-5 Galaxy from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, originally scheduled to bring maintenance supplies and tools to Okinawa two weeks later, arrived early on 10 November 1998 in order to restock the MEU’s Air Combat Element. This evolution was a part of the normal supply rotation, but the shipment arrived a week early – just in time to load onto the ships before they departed.
From Nov 1998 to Feb 1999, the MEU participated in operations in the Persian Gulf and Kuwait, including Operation Southern Watch and Operation Desert Fox.
Portions of the MEU, including G Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, then the MEU's Battalion Landing Team; portions of the Command Element; and HMM-265, the MEU's former Air Combat Element; and MEU Service Support Group 31 deployed to East Timor in January 2000 aboard USS Juneau (LPD-10) as Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force East Timor. In East Timor, the Marines and Sailors supported the transition from the Australian-led International Forces in East Timor (INTERFET) to the new United Nations Transitional Administration East Timor (UNTAET).
From September 2004 to March 2005, the 31st MEU, including Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion 3rd Marines with accompanying Charlie Battery of 1st Battalion 12th Marines, conducted combat actions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Participation included a major role in Operation Phantom Fury, the clearing of Fallujah in November 2004.
With organization changes to Marine Corps reconnaissance units in 2006, all the MEU’s Special Operations Capable (SOC) designation was removed. The 31st MEU then became titled as a Maritime Contingency Force, although it remains capable of conducting the same wide variety of specialized missions on both sea and land.
In Febuary 2006, the 31st MEU was sent to the Philippines to provide relief assistance during the mudslides in southern Leyte.
On 21 September 2007, the 31st MEU Command Element dedicated its headquarters building at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, to Sergeant Rafael Peralta, who died in Iraq during Operation Phantom Fury while with the 31st MEU. Sgt Peralta received the Navy Cross for his actions in Fallujah.
In May and June of 2008, the MEU participated in Operation Caring Response after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar.
In Oct 2009 the MEU assisted in humanitarian & disaster relief in Luzon, Philippines after Typhoons Ketsana and Parma hit back to back. Simultaneously, elements of the MEU assisted in Sumatra, Indonesia after earthquakes struck the region.
In October 2010, the 31st MEU conducted humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in northern Luzon after Super Typhoon Megi hit the Philippines.
In March of 2011 the 31st MEU sailed from Malaysia and Indonesia to mainland Japan to assist in the recovery efforts after the 9.0 Tohoku earthquake and following tsunami. The 31st MEU participated in Operation Tomodachi, delivering more than 164,000 pounds of food, water and relief supplies via helicopter. Elements of the 31st MEU, including the Command Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), Combat Logistics Battalion 31 and 2nd Battalion 5th Marines went ashore on Oshima Island to remove debris, deliver critical supplies to the isolated area, and provide life support.
The 31st MEU Marine Corps' only permanently forward-deployed MEU, and remains the nation’s expeditionary force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.