CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit has an extensive history executing humanitarian missions, but the Marines aren’t likely to rest on their laurels.
“As the force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific area of operation, the 31st MEU is exceptionally well prepared to conduct humanitarian missions in our (area of operation),” said LtCol. Troy Roesti, the executive officer of the 31st MEU, and a native of Sherwood, Ohio. “Although we’ve had numerous successful (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) operations in the past, we practice continually to be even more successful for the future.”
One such example of continued training was the humanitarian assistance/disaster relief mission during the unit’s Certification Exercise. A simulated village of 1,500 civilians rocked by an earthquake requested food and water delivery from the U.S. embassy in their host nation. After coordination between the embassy, local officials and the Marine forces on the ground, the 31st MEU was en route to deliver the much-needed supplies.
Marines and sailors with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st MEU, established perimeters in and around the village to ensure the area was secure to efficiently deliver relief supplies. A team of Military Information Support Operations members played messages over loudspeakers and coordinated with key members of the populace to make it known that the Marines were there to help.
“Ensuring we have a secure area to operate in is key to delivering this aid even if the people we’re trying to help have no bad intentions toward us,” said Sgt. Jeremy P. Rockwell, a squad leader with the HA/DR security element, 31st MEU, and a native of Jackson, Mich. “If a riot is sparked within the populace as they rush to get supplies, the foreign presence will be viewed as the cause. Once a riot situation starts getting out of hand is when Marines and locals start getting hurt.”
With security established, trucks and equipment from Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU, arrived with potable water collected and purified by the unit and boxes of food provided by a simulated non-governmental aid organization.
Between two trips, a total of 26,000 gallons of water was provided along with hundreds of boxes of food items. During the operation, no scenario-based hostile factions or incidents impeded the delivery.
“It may seem anti-climactic when we prepare for a lot and a little happens, but that’s actually the best type of mission,” said Cpl. Jared N. Bain, a team leader with the HA/DR security element, 31st MEU, and a native of Portland, Oreg. “We come in, set up security, deliver supplies and leave. The weapons and gear we carry is precautionary, not the focus of the mission we’re conducting.”
The 31st MEU has conducted three major HA/DR missions within the last four years: relief efforts following Super Typhoon Megi in northern Luzon, Republic of the Philippines in 2010; Operation Tomodachi in eastern Japan in 2011; and Operation Damayan in Leyte, Republic of the Philippines in 2013.
The HA/DR training is in support of the 31st MEU’s CERTEX, a training package that tests the capabilities of the MEU in a variety of scenarios and is evaluated by members of the Special Operations Training Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.