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Photo Information

An Oshima island resident and a Marine with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit move a table during Operation “Field Day,” April 3. The MEU currently has approximately 300 Marines and sailors helping with clean-up efforts in the devastated area. The 31st MEU is ready to support its Japanese partners and to provide assistance when called upon.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Garry J. Welch

31st MEU increases relief efforts on Oshima island

5 Apr 2011 | Cpl. Michael A. Bianco

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit stepped up efforts in aiding the island of Oshima by delivering more supplies and personnel in support of Operation “Field Day” via U.S. Navy landing craft, April 3.

120 additional service members from the 31st MEU including Weapons Co., Battalion Landing Team 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, as well as elements of Combat Logistics Battalion 31 and the command element arrived on Oshima to further assist with debris-clearing operations, all supporting Operation Tomodachi. A contingent of 30 U.S. Navy personnel also arrived to work for the day, helping to clear a port area of storm debris.

The 31st MEU currently has approximately 300 Marines and sailors working at four separate locations on the devastated island helping with relief efforts. The service members are working in the areas of Uranohoma Port, Yogai Port, Komagata Port and Soto Beach. They clear debris and help residents from sun-up to sun-down in the hard-hit areas around the ports, and sleep in freezing temperatures in tents on the island at night.

Approximately 45 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake, Oshima was one of the hardest hit locations, and the island’s small towns were completely devastated by the tsunami.

As of April 3, the 31st MEU has delivered more than 20,000 pounds of supplies to the island. The supplies include diapers, clothes, medical supplies, plates and utensils, flashlights and water jugs. And local residents are grateful, thanking the Marines as they work together to begin to set things back in order.

In Uranohoma Port, Marines assisted a local seafood restaurateur and his 8-year-old son with clearing debris and salvaging valuable plates and cookware from the ruined foundation of his home and store.

“We’ve found a lot of personal belonging in the rubble and it makes you wonder how it would feel if it happened to you or your family, and it can sometimes touch pretty close to home,” said Lance Cpl. Colton Carlson, a saw gunner with Co. G. “We’re glad to help because we know how much we would appreciate it if the roles were reversed.”

The 31st MEU, along with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and local authorities, are currently clearing debris from the harbor and the devastated population centers near the ocean as a part of the operation. As the Marines open the roads and clear the ports with heavy equipment and manpower, the JGSDF and local authorities are able to move more relief supplies in by ferry and deliver them to the displaced residents.

The residents of Oshima relied on several large passenger ferries located in Uranohama Port. All of the ferries and pier they resided on were pushed more than 400 feet inland by the tsunami, which stopped all transportation to and from the island.

“Our one key piece of the mission is to help clean out the harbor here,” said Capt. Ben Middendorf, commander of Company G, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st MEU. “The harbor is the island’s one lifeline to mainland Japan and once they are able to have ships come in and out of the port they will be self-sustainable.”

Marines also assisted local Japanese villagers by crawling through a smashed house that had been washed off of its foundations and retrieving personal items from the wreckage, before the remnants of the building were cleared away to open access to the port.

In another area, a main road was completely blocked by debris from a washed away building. In less than two hours, the heavy equipment and hard-working Marines cleared the route, allowing local utility repair trucks to begin accessing areas to restore electricity.

Oshima has a population of approximately 3,000 people, 600 of which are living in shelters with generator powered electricity. Food, water and fuel have been brought in by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force SH-60K Sea Hawk helicopters and CH-46E Sea Knights with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-262 (Reinforced), 31st MEU.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth J. Glueck, commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force and Joint Task Force 505 commander, and Lt. Gen. Eiji Kimizuka, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force commanding general and commanding general for Joint Task Force Tohoku, visited the island April 3. The commanders discussed their observations of the damage and the welfare of the locals affected.

“The destruction is very bad; most people ran away and are not coming back,” said Kimizuka. “We are very grateful for the Marines’ assistance.”

The 31st MEU’s involvement comes in support of the ongoing JGSDF response, after a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan causing widespread damage. The 31st MEU is ready to support its Japanese partners and to provide assistance when called upon.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit