OKINAWA, Japan --
After a devastating typhoon hit the area, the local populace was in dire need of assistance, lacking fresh water, food and shelter. The fictional government officially requested U.S. military aid, and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit answered the call while deployed aboard vessels of Amphibious Squadron 11.
The 31st MEU has been officially tasked for humanitarian aid and disaster relief and follow-on operations to a make-believe country, as part of the ongoing certification exercise, which certifies the MEU for actual contingency operations in the region.
The government makes its request for American military aid through the U.S. Department of State, more specifically, the U.S. Embassy in the country. To give the commanders of the MEU with accurate and reliable feedback from non-governmental organizations and the embassy, the Forward Command Element is inserted.
“The FCE is formed and sent in advance of the MEU at the request of the State Department in response to a crisis situation,” said Lt. Col. Troy Roesti, executive officer of the 31st MEU. “Its purpose is to link up and liaise with State Department officials and serve as a communication link between the embassy and the Commander of the Amphibious Task Force. The FCE provides the capability to assess and advise the embassy officials on MEU capabilities for crisis response, and then communicates those desires to the MEU Commander for course of action development.”
The FCE Marines work hand in hand with their Department of State counterparts to coordinate the best plan to provide, distribute and properly manage humanitarian aid supplies. Although the 31st MEU has the capability to self sustain several operations, in this case, several of the supplies are provided by non-governmental organizations, which are usually coordinated by the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. The OFDA, Embassy staff and FCE work together to best utilize the capabilities of the MEU, combined with the provisions of the NGOs, to meet the requirements of the host government.
Because the MEU is here by request of the host nation and under direct authority of the embassy, the MEU acts as a facilitating agent, not the lead role.
“Our job in a HA/DR situation is to alleviate suffering where we can and provide support, not to decide who gets what from various NGOs. In support of HA/DR we are responsive, not directive. The American Ambassador informs us of what known requirements are,” said Capt. Robert Schwaab, the assistant logistics officer for the 31st MEU. “Once we coordinate those requirements with the rest of the MEU at sea, the commander can effectively task his subordinate units to assist the operation.”
The FCE is comprised of Marines from several different specialties, all of whom can provide recommendations to the FCE commander in their subject of expertise. These specialty representatives range from intelligence specialists and communication operators to logistics planners and civil affairs representatives. The FCE commander will decide who to inject to the embassy based on the current situation in the foreign country.
“Ideally the FCE would be comprised of individuals representing each of the main capabilities within the MEU, however, in many cases the embassy may have limited capability to accommodate large numbers of Marines,” said Roesti. “At a minimum it will comprise of those individuals deemed most capable to assess the situation and advise the Ambassador or Chief of Mission the capabilities of the MEU and coordinate his desires with the MEU and PHIBRON plans for assistance.”
Although many of the specialists are of senior rank, the critical role of junior Marines is also needed as part of the FCE.
“I think the FCE is something every Marine should get a chance to participate in, because it is a vital tie for this operation, and we have to operate our equipment flawlessly to keep a continual and reliable information flow to the commander,” said Cpl. Ryan Smith, a data network technician for the command element of the 31st MEU.
The 31st MEU is currently conducting their certification exercise, which is conducted with Amphibious Squadron 11, and qualifies the MEU/ARG team for a wide range of actual contingency missions in the Asia-Pacific region.
The 31st MEU is the United States’ expeditionary force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region, and is currently deployed with Amphibious Squadron 11.