CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan --
Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit have been cleaning aircraft, vehicles and equipment here from April through June in preparation for Exercise Talisman Sabre 2011.
The cleaning is necessary due to the Australian Quarantine Inspection, a mandatory inspection of all vehicles and equipment that must be passed before entering Australia for the exercise.
“This is a required inspection by the Australian government to ensure no wildlife, seeds or other plant material gets into the country,” said Capt. Robert D. Schwaab, the assistant logistics officer with the 31st MEU. “It is the Australian government’s way of ensuring that the country is not contaminated with a plant or animal that is not native, and does not have any natural predators.”
Elements of the 31st MEU conducting the cleaning included Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines; Combat Logistics Battalion 31 and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265.
“To ensure we were able to clean and prepare our equipment to stringent agricultural standards for Australia, Marines across the MEU had to disassemble our vehicles and equipment,” said Lt. Col. William Arick, commanding officer, CLB 31. “We cleaned every piece individually, and spent countless hours pressure washing the vehicles from top to bottom. We worked hand-in-hand with Australian inspectors to ensure every item was clean and without any dirt or other contaminants.”
The screening is so intense that even the threads of nuts and bolts had to be thoroughly cleaned.
Planning for the inspections began more than a year ago, and included classes for the Marines conducting the cleaning to ensure they knew what had to be done.
Cleaning the vehicles and aircraft began in April, and will continue through June, and it is an effort that required everyone to pitch in and work together to complete.
“This has been an all hands effort to get the aircraft ready for inspection,” said Capt. Luke A. Williamson, the assistant maintenance officer of HMM-265. “Marines from all of our shops in the squadron, as well as some augments from Marine Air Logistics Squadron 36, were involved in pressure washing, vacuuming, scrubbing, and wiping down the aircraft.”
The Marines of the 31st MEU did all this while also doing regular preparations for the upcoming deployment, meaning busy days, long hours and late nights for everyone involved.
To ensure the vehicles remain free of contaminates after getting cleaned, they are either staged in an enclosed area, or they are staged in an area covered with salt.
“The area is covered in salt to ensure no snails make their way onto the vehicles,” said Schwaab. “The snails are not native to Australia, so we have to ensure they do not get there.”
To guarantee no animals or plant material makes it to the country; even 31st MEU aircraft that will be used are being thoroughly cleaned.
Marines of HMM-265, the MEU’s incoming air combat element, removed panels and sensitive electronics from both inside and outside the aircraft in order to clean every part.
They also removed the seats, seatbelts, and any fabric from the aircraft, laid them out, and scrubbed and inspected each piece.
“The aircraft were all pressure-washed inside and out, and a vacuum run through any spot that could fit a nozzle,” said Williamson. “Imagine a white glove boot camp inspection, but for the aircraft.”
The Marines cleaned the items until they were just shiny metal and paint, which is quite an accomplishment considering most are constantly operated in muddy or dusty landing zones. To accomplish all of this took hundreds of man-hours.
Once the aircraft, vehicles and equipment are inspected and deemed clean by the inspectors, they are not used for any operations that may get them dirty again.
As the Marines of the 31st MEU work to ensure the vehicles, aircraft, and other equipment pass the scrupulous AQIS inspections, the MEU also remains ready to answer the nation’s call should it be directed to.
The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains the nation’s force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.