OKINAWA, Japan --
Mirroring operations conducted exactly one year ago following the tsunami in Japan, Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit rehearsed a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief scenario here, March 9 though 11.
Battalion Landing Team 1st Marines, 4th Battalion and Combat Logistics Battalion 31, both with the 31st MEU, came ashore on the Kin Blue beach on landing craft, bringing preliminary supplies to establish a base camp and initial aid for the simulated towns decimated by a natural disaster.
“The scenario is that approximately one week ago, a typhoon struck the fictional country,” said 1st Lt. Matt Halligan, operations officer for the HADR simulation. “A significant number of people are in need of food, water, fuel and medical supplies. The government has requested the help of the 31st MEU to conduct this HADR operation.”
On the first day of the HADR operation, the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU prepared to deliver supplies to a town with the possibility of a neighboring nomadic village becoming hostile toward the U.S.’s presence. Within the town were 85 military and civilian role players.
Following the onload of the supplies to the beach, the command post set up a tactical water purification system to begin making fresh water and initiated motor transport operations to clear routes blocked by debris left by floods and mudslides. Supplies were picked up at a nearby warehouse, delivered by various non-government organizations, and transported to the town.
“We’re here on their behalf to render aid and assistance,” said Cpl. Justin Hunter, a motor transport operator with CLB-31, 31st MEU. “Regardless of this being a simulation, this exercise is probably one of the most important ones among all that we do, as exemplified by Operation Tomodachi.”
Once on site, the Marines and Sailors offloaded the crates and pallets of food and supplies to the disaster-torn town. The mayor, with the security presence of the Marines, made a deal with the leader of the neighboring village to share some of the supplies. This lowered the risk of hostile actions.
Later in the day, a separate convoy with potable water pumped 4,000 gallons of fresh water into the town’s water system, flushing out contaminates caused by the flooding.
The following day, tensions between the town and the village flared to the point where the U.S. ambassador ordered the evacuation of American citizens from the area, transitioning the training scenario from a HADR to a noncombatant evacuation operation.
“From here, we’re loading up the civilians and transporting them to the local airport for evacuation out of the country,” said Halligan.
What made the HADR training so beneficial was the fact that, although a training evolution for the MEU’s certification exercise, the details accounted for during the scenario left nothing to be desired.
“We’ve built into the scenario a level of detail that has never been observed in past HADR exercises for CERTEX,” said Maj. Anthony Loignon, primary instructor for the HADR and NEO. “The supplies delivered to the locals are typical in size and weight of HA operations, but the difficulty of HADRs are not in the delivering of supplies, but in the coordination of the mission. If such coordination challenges are not resolved beforehand, they will have to be overcome during exercise execution.”
At the end of the exercise, the Marines and Sailors, all integral parts to the constantly-moving whole, successfully executed the multiple missions of the HADR and NEO, resupplying the townsfolk as well as safely evacuating the American citizens.
“The integration I’ve seen between the BLT and the CLB in our various missions has been phenomenal,” said Lt. Col. William Arick, commanding officer of CLB 31, 31st MEU. “We are operating just hours after coming off ship in a disaster environment, which can be complex. This training prepares our teams for events like Operation Tomodachi and we look forward to successfully completing the mission.”
Following the MEU’s CERTEX, the 31st MEU will continue its deployment in the Asia-Pacific region.