USS ESSEX, off the coast of Japan --
The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 11, with a combined total of more than 4,000 Marines and Sailors, arrived off of the west coast of mainland Japan March 18, after a major earthquake and following tsunami caused extensive destruction to northeast Japan one week ago.
The USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Germantown (LSD 42) with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived off the coast of Akita prefecture this morning and is awaiting further tasking. The west coast of Honshu affords greater access to undamaged ports and roads, fewer navigational hazards, and prevailing winds that are upwind of the Fukushima power plant.
“This MEU is an organization ideally suited for humanitarian assistance in a coastal region such as this,” said Col. Andrew MacMannis, commanding officer, 31st MEU. “We have aviation and amphibious platforms capable of rapid delivery of relief supplies, medical assistance, transportation assets and engineer equipment to an affected area, which could be of great assistance to those in need right now.”
Helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, flying from the USS Essex (LHD 2) as it drew near the coast, conducted aerial reconnaissance of the port Akita area early this morning. The helicopters also conducted a survey of available road networks and airfields to the east, in preparation for potential supply routes and staging areas near the disaster zone.
The amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) is scheduled to dock pier-side at 4 p.m. (local) in the port of Akita in order to prepare for the initial offload disaster relief equipment and personnel.
The USS Essex (LHD 2) and USS Germantown (LSD 42) remain operating at sea nearby in order to be available for offload and disaster assistance if directed.
“If approved for operations, the 31st MEU is ready to rapidly send vehicles and aircraft east toward the affected areas,” said Lt. Col. Michael Monti, operations officer, 31st MEU. “We can move water production capabilities to areas where there are water shortages, heavy equipment for debris removal, medical personnel to treat the wounded, and many other capabilities to help those in dire need.”
The MEU can also provide extensive distribution services by ground and air with its compliment of more than 150 vehicles and 20 aircraft, according to Maj. Don Shove, assistant operations officer, 31st MEU.
A six-man forward command element of the 31st MEU is headed to Matsushima, Japan, in order to coordinate initial efforts for disaster aid planning with officials already on scene. Two members of the MEU are also in Yokota coordinating efforts to provide relief.
“Our arrival is in support of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the government of Japan in Operation Tomodachi,” said MacMannis. “We hope to receive orders to go to the aid of those in need as quickly as possible.”
The U.S. military has approximately 17,000 service members involved in relief operations in Japan, the Pentagon said.
The earthquake was measured at magnitude 9.0 by the U.S. Geological Survey, and triggered a following tsunami with waves as high as 32 feet.
The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 have responded to four humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations in the last two years. The Navy and Marine Corps team is prepared to deliver robust air, ground, and maritime transportation; medical and dental health services; distribution services; and engineering assets as directed.
The 31st MEU includes more than 2,200 Marines and Sailors and is comprised of four elements: the Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) and CLB-31.
The 31st MEU provides a forward-deployed, flexible, sea-based force capable of supporting the ongoing Japanese humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations as directed.
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Media queries may be directed to Capt. Caleb D. Eames, 31st MEU public affairs officer at firstname.lastname@example.org.