CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- With each turning hour, confined to working spaces and hard-topped desks, Marines across the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit tap their feet, awaiting the chance to deploy. As you gaze outside the windows of MEU headquarters, men and women crowd smoke decks and pull-up bars, freeing themselves of the confined space that initiates a sense of claustrophobia. Breaking through this quarantine rules their day dreams. Marines are meant to be outdoors.
The Marine Corps prides itself on beings America’s 911-force fire brigade that the commander in chief can call upon to fight the nation’s battles in an emergency.
The 31st MEU maintains the ability to rapidly respond to crises and reinforces America’s desire to have a strong Marine Corps by always being Forward, Flexible and Ready. These traits are not only the brand for the MEU, but a way of thinking that is printed in the minds of every individual who walks through the door. The MEU’s breed of Marine must be able to prepare, pack and depart within 24 hours, having little idea what trials and tribulations lie ahead.
“We were ready yesterday, we’re ready today, and we’ll be ready tomorrow.” said Sgt. Maj. Jim Lanham, sergeant major of the 31st MEU. “The MEU embodies what the Marine Corps is all about.”
Many stories since the turn of the 19th century have advocated for a dismemberment of the United States Marine Corps. There have been some historical attempts to disband the organization by members of Congress as early as right after World War II, saying the Marine Corps could fold into the Army and that the Corps has no outstanding capabilities. Voices sometimes favor for disbanding the 185,000+ active duty leathernecks because the consensus states, with cyber, information, and technological warfare being so prevalent, there will soon no longer be a need for ground forces.
The MEU rivals this claim by being much more than a simple ground force. It opposes the status quo that the Marine Corps is a group of gung ho infantrymen by providing a much greater service than just troops on the ground.
“We are constantly refining our crisis response capabilities,” said Col. Tye R. Wallace, the commanding officer of the 31st MEU. “As the U.S. Marine Corps’ only permanently deployed premiere force in readiness, the 31st MEU will do anything to help individuals in need.”
The MEU maintains military superiority by keeping the warfighters trained and ready to fight. But, the MEU has made itself remain relevant, and the Marine Corps necessary, by immersing itself and aiding cultures in the operational area during times of significant need.
Earthquakes, typhoons and natural disasters have demolished areas in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Saipan in just the last five years. From Operation Chinzei, which Marines delivered more than 82,000 pounds of food, water and other items to southern Japan after a series of earthquakes struck the province, to Operation Damayan, when Marines evacuated civilians and provided over 100,000 pounds of food in the Philippines following a super typhoon. Marines attached to the 31st MEU have been there to provide supplies and save lives.
“Many people think that Marines are only able to break things,” Lanham said. “In reality, the MEU is focused on providing assistance to those in need, which is what keeps our Marine Corps relevant.”
Marines and sailors with the 31st MEU will continue to execute training while pondering their chance to travel across seas, waiting their turn to reach out a helpful hand to those who need it, and continue to keep the Marine Corps on the map.