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31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

Ready - Partnered - Lethal

Okinawa, Japan
Swapping ships – Marines transfer mid-deployment

By Capt. Caleb D. Eames | | March 5, 2011

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Elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit switched naval vessels as they disembarked from the USS Denver (LPD 9) and embarked aboard the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) in port, March 5. 

The move was designed to keep the MEU available and ready to respond while still allowing the Navy vessels opportunity to maintain operational and maintenance cycles.

“We will be moving about 500 passengers, 100 pieces of equipment, 30 vehicles and six M777 Lightweight Towed Howitzers to the USS Harpers Ferry in the next 24 hours,” said 1st Lt. Charles Breaux, the team embarkation officer for the move.  “It takes a lot of cooperation between multiple members of the Navy Marine Corps team to get the job done safely and quickly.”

The process of moving people and materials to another ship begins with developing a plan.

“You have to understand the blue (Navy) and green (Marine Corps) sides of the equation to come up with a plan,” said Breaux.  “Then you verify that plan with all the different people on the ships involved and make sure that it will work correctly, and everyone understands it.”

Once the plan was in place, the ships then moored side-by-side at the White Beach Naval Facility, and the transition of Marines, Sailors, and materials began.

“It takes coordination between a lot of people to make this happen,” said Staff Sgt. Chad Schwan, the team embarkation assistant, of Watertown, S.D.  “We work with all the outside agencies, bring everyone together, and try to make the moving parts work like a fine tuned machine.”

The planners also worked with the Navy’s beach landing and landing craft air cushioned crews to ensure mission success.

“If we encounter challenges, well, retreat, hell,” said Schwan, quoting the MEU’s Battalion Landing Team 2d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment’s motto.  “Teamwork is essential to overcoming challenges.  There is no MEU without our Navy brethren, so we work together to get the job done.”

The ship-to-ship move involved several elements of the 31st MEU including portions of BLT 2/5; the BLT’s artillery and amphibious assault vehicle attachments; parts of Combat Logistics Battalion 31 as well as a contingent from the command element.

“It takes the coordinated effort of over 100 people on the Navy side, and just as many on the Marine side, to move passengers and equipment over to our ship,” said Lt. Daniel Tyler, operations officer aboard the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49).  “It takes a lot of teamwork, foresight, and planning ahead, to making sure everyone is on the same page from start to finish.”

The ship is loaded with thought toward future missions as well as the ever-necessary consideration for a possible humanitarian assistance disaster relief contingency, said Breaux.  The 31st MEU has participated in four HADR missions in the last two years.

“In the end, the success story is that it all gets on the ship in the right order,” said Tyler.  “Everything gets where it is supposed to go, and the ships can leave on time and carry on with their mission.”

The transition to another ship comes midway through the MEU’s scheduled deployment to the Asia-Pacific region, enhancing theater security and conducting bilateral training with multiple nations.

Once the move is complete, the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) will head back out to sea and continue the remainder of the deployment.

The USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) now joins Amphibious Squadron 11, the group of Navy ships which regularly carry Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU during patrols of the Asia-Pacific region.  The other two ships of PHIBRON 11 are the USS Essex (LHD 2) and the USS Germantown (LSD 42), both underway at sea.

The 31st MEU is the U.S.’s only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains a force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region at all times.


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