USS ESSEX, At Sea --
The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is capable of responding to any contingency that presents itself in the Asia-Pacific region. There are many driving factors that ensure the MEU maintains that capability, but one of the largest may be one of the least recognized.
The Marines of the Command Element’s administration section work more than 17 hours per day, with only five Marines, to make sure more than 2,100 Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU are taken care of.
“We deal with everything from pay and promotions, to travel claims and accountability, and everything in-between for the entire 31st MEU,” said Cpl. Oscar A. Archaga, an administrative clerk with the 31st MEU. “It is a really demanding job, and a constant challenge to ensure everything is done when it needs to be.”
One of the most challenging aspects of the job, according to Archaga, a native of Hackensack, N.J., is maintaining accountability of all the Marines and Sailors during deployments. Due to the MEU’s high operational tempo, and constantly evolving mission, the unit’s personnel are constantly moving from ship to shore.
“As a Marine Air Ground Task Force, we have to be connected with all the major subordinate commands like the Battalion Landing Team and Combat Logistics Battalion 31 in terms of logistics,” said Sgt. Juan Vallejomunoz, the acting administration chief for the 31st MEU’s Command Element. “When they go ashore, sometimes it’s scheduled and sometimes it’s not, so we have to be ready for all movements. We have to ensure we keep track of everybody, so the commanding officer knows exactly where every Marine is.”
During an exercise, there are hundreds of Marines moving from ship to shore, or changing locations on the shore they are operating from, and it is up to these five Marines to ensure they have the exact location of every person within the 31st MEU.
If an error in accountability occurred, individual Marines or even the entire operation could be put at risk. The Marines of the administrative section are essential in making sure the commanding officer has complete knowledge of his unit’s disposition, prior to moving forward with a mission, according to Sergeant Major Gonzalo A. Vasquez, the sergeant major of the 31st MEU.
“Like a ship without Marines, the MEU without administrative Marines is like a coat without buttons,” said Vasquez.
Working in an office with high demands and so many different things to be aware of, the Marines of CE’s administration section consider themselves better prepared to deal with the challenges further along in their Marine Corps career.
“I think that working in a unit like this allows the junior Marines to be able to leave here with a lot of tools in their pocket, and knowing they have an advantage over a lot of Marines because of their experience here,” said Sgt. James A. Mabe, an administrative clerk with the 31st MEU.
According to Mabe, the Marines not only gain valuable experience within their field, but get to view an aspect of the Marine Corps not every Marine gets to see. They gain a familiarity with the unique qualities of a Marine Air Ground Task Force.
With a unique perspective on Marine Corps operations and vital role in sustaining the mission, the Marines of the CE’s administrative section find validation in their purpose.
“I love this job,” said Archaga. “When we are working 17 hours a day, there is never any doubt that we earned our paychecks.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.