OKINAWA, Japan (Jan. 26, 2009) -- --
The commandant of the Republic of Korea’s Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. Lee Hong-Hee visited the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Hansen Jan. 23.
During his visit, Hong-Hee, escorted by Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force, and commander of Marine Corps Bases Japan met with Marines and sailors from the MEU’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines as they participated in a two-day water survival course. The visit also gave Zilmer the opportunity to welcome the new BLT to Okinawa.
Zilmer said this was Hong-Hee’s first visit as commandant, which presented a great opportunity to showcase the Marine Corps’ capabilities first hand while maintaining positive relations and goodwill between nations.
“We have an extraordinary relationship with the ROK Marine Corps,” he said. “It allows U.S. Marines and service members from different nations to see and experience each other’s unique cultures.
During a water survival training demonstration, Hong-Hee was introduced to Lance Cpl. Denny Song, an infantry assaultman with BLT 3/5 and a U.S. Marine of South Korean descent, who acted as the main demonstrator for the event.
Hong-Hee observed as Marines learned how to exit an aircraft which has crashed into a body of water.
Once the IPHABD demonstration was complete, Zilmer and Hong-Hee visited additional members of BLT 3/5 at the House of Pain gymnasium.
Zilmer addressed the Marines and sailors regarding their upcoming deployment including the importance of the humanitarian missions they will be conducting and the differences of being in the Asia Pacific theater as opposed to the Middle East.
“The Marine Corps is lean, mean and ready to fight,” Zilmer said to the eager crowd.
For some of the Marines from BLT 3/5, this is a good opportunity for them to see a different part of the Marine Corps; not just what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This is a chance for the Marines to better prepare themselves,” said Staff Sgt. Fredy Herrera, a platoon sergeant with the BLT. “There is more going on in the world than just the Middle East and we need to be ready for it all.”
The commanding officer for BLT 3/5, Lt. Col. Christopher S. Dowling, shares Herrera’s feelings and said the Marines are excited about the transition from the sand to the jungle.
“Last year we were in Iraq. This is an opportunity for us to get back to our grass roots,” Dowling said. “We have vastly different missions in the Pacific than in the Middle East.”
The Marines of BLT 3/5 and the 31st MEU depart for their spring deployment throughout the Asia Pacific Region this week, beginning with their participation in exercise Cobra Gold.