SHOALWATER BAY TRAINING AREA, Queensland, Australia -- Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit completed the twice annual Certification Exercise, Aug. 18, 2017, planning and accomplishing a rigorous series of missions at Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland, Australia.
CERTEX is the last qualification step for the 31st MEU as it continues on its regularly scheduled patrol of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Since May, the 31st MEU has completed a series of exercises to hone its mission planning and execution capacity, beginning in Okinawa, Japan, and ending off the east coast of Australia with CERTEX.
During CERTEX Marines and Sailors with the 31st MEU conducted a variety of “standing missions” – military tasks the 31st MEU can plan and launch within six hours using the Marine Corps Rapid Response Planning Process. During CERTEX, leaders within the 31st MEU receive a series of scenario-based orders to execute a variety of amphibious missions – from a beach assault and helicopter-borne raid to a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) and humanitarian assistance-disaster relief (HADR) mission, all launched from the sea and including up to 2,200 Marines and Sailors, which comprise the 31st MEU.
CERTEX ensures the 31st MEU can work efficiently and on short notice, implementing R2P2, to plan and launch vital military tasks within a matter of hours while partnering with the crew of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group.
“CERTEX tested the Marines and Sailors on their ability to act,” said Col. Ronald Stephens, III Marine Expeditionary Force Deputy G-3 – Operations Officer, the chief evaluator of the 31st MEU during CERTEX. “The exercise is vital in maintaining the high expectation of the 31st MEU.”
CERTEX, which normally takes place on and around Okinawa from the U.S. Navy vessels of the BHR ESG – the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), the USS Green Bay (LPD 20) and USS Ashland (LHA 48) – was made more challenging by the scale of mission requirements in the sprawling Shoalwater Bay Training Area. Ordinarily, the 31st MEU plans and launches missions in sequence. During this iteration of CERTEX, the 31st MEU planned and launched missions concurrently, complicating the scenario and testing the 31st MEU’s capabilities to support missions and operations likely to occur in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, according to Stephens.
“Marines and Sailors with the 31st MEU have grown stronger through this exercise,” said Stephens. “The [Marines of the] 31st MEU will continue to further develop and hone their skills to be ready for real world situations that arise.”
The 31st MEU, composed of a Command Element, Ground Combat Element, Logistics Combat Element and Aviation Combat Element, is capable of a variety of air-ground-logistics missions. During CERTEX, each element of the 31st MEU contributed to mission planning and execution to prepare for likely contingencies across the vast operational area of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
CERTEX underscored the need for the 31st MEU as a crisis-response force, especially its capacity to respond to support HADR missions, which are the most likely real-world contingencies to which the 31st MEU will respond, according to Master Sgt. David Carrier, the 31st MEU’s assistant operations chief. The 31st MEU provides a variety of life-saving and life-sustaining support measures during HADR, including water purification and distribution, evacuation of noncombatants and security stabilization.
“There’s a lot to manage when operating at this scale,” said Carrier. “We have to think of details in mission preparation, distribution of supplies and the tracking of forces on the ground,” to ensure the 31st MEU responds proportionally, especially during HADR missions.
CERTEX helped both mission planners and the Marines on the ground prepare to respond to real-world operations when required.
“We needed to keep the same mindset as any other CERTEX,” said Carrier. “We strive to perform better each time we go out to sea and conduct this exercise.”