USS ESSEX, At sea --
Preparations began just days before the first long range raid the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted during this deployment.
The raid force itself was ready to go as soon as the order was given, and there was something new about this raid the 31st MEU had not done in recent memory.
The 31st MEU’s commanders, who were aboard the USS Essex (LHD 2), would attempt to keep in contact with the raid force through the use of satellite communications as it flew over 1,700 kilometers to the objective.
According to Cpl. Joshua E. Dixon, a communications technician with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, in an ideal situation the Marines would have a few weeks’ notice to fully test and prepare the radio equipment for use in the helicopters that would transport the raid force.
“This raid was really short notice, we only had days to troubleshoot all of the systems and ensure everything worked,” said Dixon, a native of Celina, Ohio. “We tested all the satellite antennas, and fixed everything we could. In the end we narrowed it down to the best equipment aboard the CH-53E helicopters we would use to complete this mission.”
Once the equipment was selected for the raid, Dixon and Sgt. Juan Carvajal, the air support element aviation communications systems noncommissioned officer in charge with HMM-265 (Rein), 31st MEU, boarded the helicopters and rode with the raid force to their objective. They transmitted their position at designated checkpoints to keep the command aware of their progress.
The ability to communicate with the command gave the MEU leadership the ability to dynamically re-task the raid force if necessary.
"The successful integration of UHF SATCOMM communications on the CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopter while airborne and over the horizon greatly enhances the 31st MEU's operational reach and the MEU commanders’ ability to exercise authority and direction of MEU forces, and synchronize actions across the 31st MEU's area of operations from that platform,” said Maj. Paul G. Beeman, communications officer, 31st MEU.
The Marines operating the satellite communication systems are not radio operators by trade, they are air controllers. So to operate the satellite communication systems for the raid force allowed them to broaden their skills outside their military occupational specialty.
“We don’t have radio operators with us but we maintain the radios, so we do know how to operate them,” said Dixon. “It was still a good experience though and I had a lot of fun. It was a short notice mission, so not only did I do my job, but I was able to help out the aircrew doing their jobs. I got to learn a lot and I had a good time doing it.”
The long range raid was successfully completed, and because the raid force was able to maintain communication with the Marines aboard the USS Essex the entire time, they were able to show that the small force can operate from great distance with solid communications.
“The fact that we were able to have satellite communications with them the entire time opens up a lot of possibilities to do this stuff in the future,” said 1st Lt. Lawrence T. Parker, the Marine Air Control Group 18 detachment officer in charge, HMM-265 (Rein), 31st MEU. “Everyone was pretty excited about this mission, and because it went so well I hope we can do it again sometime in the future.”
The 31st MEU is currently conducting its Certification Exercise, which upon completion will certify that it is capable of responding to any contingency mission that may arise during its upcoming patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.