OKINAWA, Japan --
OKINAWA, Japan (Jan. 31, 2022) – Sparks flew from the whetstone as the battle-ax that is the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) sharpened its lethal edge, conducting integrated training on the beachheads and jungle terrain of Okinawa in January.
As the MEU’s forward reconnaissance platoon advanced on their objective during the exercise, the opposite blade of the same formidable weapon – a platoon of Navy SEALs assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWG) 1 – glinted in shafts of sunlight piercing through the canopy.
They have no names. They have no faces. They move precisely and stealthily, leaving no leaf or branch out of place as they conduct critical reconnaissance the Marines can use for expeditionary advanced base staging and operations.
“A key aspect of our emerging naval concepts is winning the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance battle at every point of the competition continuum,” said Col. Michael Nakonieczny, commanding officer of the 31st MEU. “As the 31st MEU competes with potential adversaries, we will partner with other elite units, such as these Navy SEALs, to continuously gain contact below the threshold of violence in order to understand their baseline activities. If competition transitions to armed conflict, elements of the MEU will then persist inside the weapons engagement zone and exploit our knowledge of the adversary’s baseline as we sense, make sense, and impose cost on the enemy via organic and joint fires.”
NSW assets folded into the preparations for a motorized raid exercise, one of several capabilities the MEU flexed from the decks of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 11 ships comprising the America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).
“Our ability to rapidly assemble our formidable team of Sailors, Marines, ships, aircraft and landing craft on short notice is what makes us the Indo-Pacific region’s premier crisis response force,” said Capt. Greg Baker, PHIBRON 11 Commodore. “We train year-round and recertify regularly to ensure we’re ready to fight tonight – to answer the call not only for U.S. interests but for those of our regional allies and partners.”
Combined with a simulated expeditionary strike from the wings of F-35B Lightning II aircraft embarked aboard USS America (LHA 6), the motorized raid paved the way for a follow-on helicopter raid, amphibious assault, and boarding exercise.
“Even after years of land-based missions, NSW has not forgotten its maritime roots and we are taking the lessons learned – the way we mission plan, rehearse and integrate with the joint force – on the sea, into the littorals and at the shore to support the fleet and joint force for strategic competition,” said U.S. Navy Capt. David Abernathy, commodore of NSWG-1. “This integrated training opportunity with the 31st MEU prepares us to gain, maintain, and extend access in contested environments.”
From the air, SEALs fast-roped out of an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter onto the immense flight deck of PHIBRON 11’s newest player: USS Miguel Keith (ESB 5), a Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary sea base. During the visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) exercise, NSW assets and the 31st MEU’s maritime raid force searched Miguel Keith for simulated enemies and illicit cargo, which ensures the ship is safe and seaworthy to turn over to partner-nation authorities.
“Miguel Keith started off as a USNS – it was built to commercial standards – so the fact that it has a high freeboard, the fact that it looks like a commercial vessel, are absolutely germane,” said Baker. “Because the vessel is so large, it lends credence to the use of Miguel Keith as a training and target platform.”
“Through this training we demonstrated the interoperability of naval and special operations forces that are postured and prepared to achieve their objectives in the maritime domain across the competition continuum,” said Nakonieczny. “Together, Navy Special Warfare and the 31st MEU will continue to combine the complementary capabilities of our unique forces to ensure stability and, if need be, persist, fight, and win throughout the INDOPACOM region.”
The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 are the only continuously forward-deployed MEU-ARG team.
Based in Okinawa, the 31st MEU consists of a command element, as well as ground, air and logistics combat elements. Its air combat element, Marine Medium Titlrotor Squadron (VMM) 265, is reinforced by a detachment of F-35B Lightning II aircraft from the Iwakuni, Japan-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121.
Amphibious Squadron 11 is permanently embarked aboard USS America in Sasebo, Japan. The America Amphibious Ready group includes USS Green Bay (LPD 20), USS Ashland (LSD 48), and Miguel Keith. Green Bay and Ashland embark landing craft, utility (LCU) and landing craft, air cushion (LCAC) from Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7.
Together, the 31st MEU and the ships of PHIBRON 11 are operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility to enhance interoperability with allies and partners, and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.