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Photo Information

Capt. Paul Bartok, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit supply officer, makes his way towards a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter bound for Japan, March 17. Bartok is part of a group headed to set up the 31st MEU’s forward command element for continued operations in Japan. The 31st MEU continues to prepare for potential humanitarian assistance in support of Operation Tomodachi. Marines and sailors of the 31st MEU are making preparations for disaster relief efforts after a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan causing widespread damage. The 31st MEU is the nations’ force in readiness in the Asia Pacific region.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Garry J. Welch

31st MEU inserts to begin helping with Japan relief operations

17 Mar 2011 | Cpl. Michael A. Bianco

Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit left the flight deck of the USS Essex (LHD 2) to establish a forward command center for the unit, March 17.

The command center will serve as a base of operations and will control assets on the ground during their participation in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in support of the ongoing Operation Tomodachi.

The unit’s support will compliment the services that the Government of Japan and other U.S. forces are already providing.

“We are going to coordinate initial efforts for the MEU,” said Maj. Andrew Schoenmaker, the operations officer for Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “We have many assets available and need to figure out which will provide the most support for Japan.”

The 31st MEU is an organization ideally suited for humanitarian assistance in a coastal region. The unit has aviation and amphibious platforms capable of rapid delivery of relief supplies, medical assistance, transportation assets and engineer equipment to an affected area.

The earthquake, which hit off the eastern coast of Honshu, Japan, was measured at magnitude 9.0. This is the largest recorded earthquake to hit the country and the 5th strongest earthquake in recorded history. The earthquake triggered a tsunami which swept the northeastern area with waves up to 10 meters high.

As of March 16, there are more than 7,500 people reported missing, 4,500 confirmed deaths, 76,000 damaged buildings and 6,000 buildings completely destroyed. More than 500,000 citizens have evacuated their homes and 1.5 million homes are without running water.

Marines with the MEU are proud to have an opportunity to help the people of Japan during this time of grief.

“The 31st MEU conducts humanitarian missions fairly often in this region,” Sgt. Richard Brown, a radio operator with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “When something terrible like this disaster happens, people always wish there was something they can do to help and now we have that chance.”

The U.S.-Japan Alliance, which spans more than 50 years, is strong and will continue to deepen throughout the nations’ continued engagement and support of one another. Japan is a longstanding, critical ally in the region.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit