WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, Okinawa --
More than 2,000 Marines and Sailors sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to Okinawa, April 18-24, after completing their annual Spring Patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.
During the patrol, the 31st MEU conducted numerous amphibious training events at sea, theater security cooperation, and participated in the largest iteration of Exercise SSang Yong in the history of the bilateral event.
As part of the exercise scenario, the 31st MEU led the ground forces for the 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade’s simulated forcible entry operations in the Republic of Korea, taking on additional ground combat elements to form Regimental Landing Team 31. The combat exercise was conducted alongside ROK Marine Corps and Navy forces, as well as soldiers of the Royal Australian Army to make a combined strength of more than 13,000 troops.
“We combined assets with III (Marine Expeditionary Force), I MEF and (Marine Corps Forces Reserves) into one of the largest amphibious exercises ever conducted on the South Korean peninsula,” said Lt. Col. G. Troy Roesti, the executive officer of the 31st MEU, and a native of Sherwood, Ohio. “Exercise Ssang Yong ‘’14 taught many lessons that will be used in the future.”
While ashore, RLT-31 conducted ground-based combat exercises using numerous units including: 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines; 1st Battalion, 4th Marines; 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines; a company from 1st Tank Battalion; a company from 4th Tank Battalion; and elements of 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion and 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
The complex operations of Ssang Yong ‘14 incorporated every aspect of the Marine Air Ground Task Force from direct air support provided by Marine Aircraft Group 13 to logistical support from Combat Logistics Regiment 3. The 31st MEU’s aviation combat element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced) and logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion 31, attached to MAG 13 and CLR 3, respectively, to comprise the larger elements of the MEB.
After the MEB’s forcible entry operations were complete, the 31st MEU reformed to conduct bilateral training alongside their ROK and Australian counterparts. Live-fire marksmanship, urban combat techniques and strategic planning were just a few of the skills the U.S. Marines refreshed with their allies.
“The 31st MEU enjoys a close alliance with the ROK Marine Corps and Royal Australian Army,” said Roesti.
When the bilateral training concluded, the 31st MEU boarded the ships of PHIBRON-11 and sailed approximately 100 nautical miles away before they were called upon to respond to the rescue efforts of the sinking Korean ferry Sewol, April 16. Immediately diverting their flagship, the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), the blue-green team provided continuous air support to search and rescue operations for a week following the disaster.
“I wished the incident didn’t occur, but I am glad that we were in the area to respond to this situation and help out the best we can,” said Lance Cpl. Kevin M. Garcia, a machine-gunner with BLT Battalion Landing Team 2/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Brookfield, Ill. “It shows how vital it is to be for us to be ready at all times.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.