CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan (Dec. 11, 2009) --
The Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted a combination of exercises and operations during its 2009 patrols of the Asia-Pacific region.
The MEU embarked on its annual spring and fall patrols of the Asia-Pacific region aboard the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) comprised of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), dock landing ships USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Tortuga (LSD 46), and the transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9).
The beginning of 2009 took the Marines and Sailors to Thailand in support of Exercise Cobra Gold 2009 (CG ’09). During this exercise both nations participated in an amphibious assault, amphibious raids, Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) training, and bilateral live fire events.
During March, Company L (Co. L), Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (BLT 3/5) deployed to the Republic of Korea to participate in Exercise Foal Eagle 2009. Co. L trained alongside the ROK Marine Corps at Rodriguez Live Fire Range, where the ROK and U.S. Marines exchanged skills in areas such as mortar gunnery and Military Operations in an Urban Terrain (MOUT).
In April, the MEU traveled to the Republic of the Philippines to participate in Exercise Balikatan 2009. After various training events from amphibious raids to a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise (CALFEX), the MEU placed heavy emphasis on community relations projects. Hospital corpsmen from Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB-31) provided medical and dental care to approximately 2,400 local nationals, while the command chaplain and individual Marines and Sailors volunteered their time and energy to bring school supplies and clothing to grade school children in several local villages in the Luzon region.
In June, the MEU’s top enlisted billet changed hands. Sgt. Maj. Daniel Anderson retired after more than 30 years in the Marine Corps and the command welcomed Sgt. Maj. Jayme Winders to its ranks.
Exercise Talisman Saber 2009 (TS ’09) kicked off in July with artillery and mortar training involving the Australian Defense Force (ADF) and the MEU. During this exercise, Australian soldiers of 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3rd RAR) and the MEU comprised an invading force, while the defenders were played by other ADF members and soldiers from the U.S. National Guard. For the culminating event, both forces squared off in Shoal Water Bay Training Area’s state-of-the-art Joint Combat Training Capability Urban Operations Training Facility.
On Aug. 16, less than a week after returning to Okinawa from TS ‘09, a detachment of Marines and Sailors from the MEU’s Landing Support Platoon (LS Plt.), CLB-31, traveled to Taiwan on the USS Denver to conduct helicopter heavy-lift operations using U.S. Navy MH-53E Super Stallion helicopters in the wake of Typhoon Morakot.
With spring patrol complete, the MEU conducted its semi-annual unit turnover. BLT 2/5 replaced BLT 3/5 as the Ground Combat Element (GCE), while Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced) (HMM-265 REIN) and Marine Attack Squadron 513 (VMA-513) replaced HMM-262 REIN and VMA-211 as the MEU’s Aviation Combat Element (ACE).
The MEU deployed for its fall patrol in a small deck ARG configuration aboard the USS Denver, USS Tortuga and USS Harpers Ferry. The MEU had started its Certification Exercise (CERTEX) when it was redirected to the scene of several natural disasters in the Republic of the Philippines and Indonesia.
Upon arrival in the Philippines, the MEU quickly reconfigured to support Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations in both West Sumatra Province, Indonesia and Manila, Republic of the Philippines. From Oct. 2-12 more than 1.5 million pounds of food, 39,000 bags of clothes and 650 cases of water were transported throughout the region to provide relief and support in the wake of Tropical Storm Ketsana and Typhoon Parma. With the relief effort complete, the MEU transitioned to PHIBLEX and conducted bilateral training with the Philippine Armed Forces.
Simultaneously, a small Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), 31st MEU (-), was deployed for HA/DR operations on the USS Denver in the aftermath of the 7.6 level Indonesian earthquake on Sept. 30. MEU personnel provided heavy-lift capabilities using CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from HMM-265 REIN to transport more than 130,000 pounds of supplies such as food, tools and shelter to affected regions.
Additionally, the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF) and Co. G, BLT 2/5 conducted Exercise Forest Light 2010 at Sekiyama, Japan. The two nations conducted live fire ranges including mortars, Combat Marksmanship Program (CMP), machinegun ranges and helicopter-borne operations.
In November, the Maritime Contingency Force continued its fall patrol to the Republic of Korea to participate in Korean Incremental Training Program 2010 (KITP ’10). The ROK Marine Corps and 31st MEU conducted several bilateral training events including helicopter support team (HST) operations, mass casualty evacuation missions, and an amphibious beach landing with an airborne assault.
During the fall patrol, the MEU reconfigured onto the USS Essex and USS Tortuga and participated in the Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet’s Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX). The focal point of the final week was a mock Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) involving the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF).
2009 proved to be a busy year for the 31st MEU. However, with such experiences, its Marines and Sailors were able to adapt and become far more proficient in the unit’s amphibious trade, said Col. Paul L. Damren, 31st MEU Commanding Officer.
“The 31st MEU is recognized as the model MEU for its significant contributions to Long War objectives and to the maintenance of amphibious capabilities and heritage within our Corps,” Damren said. “Each individual Marine departs Okinawa with a life-long sense of pride and accomplishment for having served with the 31st MEU.”