KADENA AIR FORCE BASE, Okinawa, Japan -- More than 300 Marines and Sailors of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, crossed the flight line here, Dec. 2 and Dec. 4, signaling the arrival of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's new battalion landing team.
Landing in Okinawa following a half-day long flight, the tired troops were quickly unloaded, briefed and sent to Camp Hansen. They represent the initial group of more than 800 Marines and Sailors arriving over the course of the next week.
As part of the 31st MEU based in Okinawa, BLT 1/5, “The Old Breed,” will have to change their focus of operations. The Marines and Sailors will be returning to their amphibious roots and entering a jungle environment, while the sand of Afghanistan is still fresh on their boots.
"We're excited about getting involved in jungle training, especially since we've been 'heavy-equipment bound' during the last 10 years with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said LtCol. Terry M. Johnson, commanding officer for BLT 1/5, 31st MEU. "Being on the 31st MEU allows BLT 1/5 the opportunity to train in unique locations, such as here on Okinawa, but also the opportunity to do our nation's bidding in a variety of locations while deployed."
With a plethora of unique terrain, including Okinawa's Jungle Warfare Training Center, Camp Gonsalves, the upcoming deployment within the Asia-Pacific region will bring first-time experiences for many involved.
"We're going to visit a lot of places, offering new things to look at, learn and smell," said Lance Cpl Justin M. Puda, an optics technician with Headquarters and Service Company, BLT 1/5, 31st MEU and a native of Colorado Springs, Colo. "The main exercises we will be involved in will be multi-national, so it will be interesting to see how we overcome the language barrier and differences when working with our foreign allies."
BLT 1/5's most recent deployment was to Afghanistan in 2011, ensuring the presence of combat-tested veterans for the 31st MEU's spring patrol. Those that may have served next to foreign militaries in Afghanistan look forward to the opportunity to do so again with Pacific forces.
"This upcoming deployment is a big field operation with other countries' forces that will really test our knowledge of what we do," said Staff Sgt. Codi D. Tanksley, Motor Transport chief for Fox Battery, BLT 1/5, 31st MEU and a native of Fort Worth, Texas. "It's a movement that doesn't build character, but reveals it."
The battalion brings a storied history to the 31st MEU, having participated in major battles during every war since the Cuban conflict in 1914. Marines and Sailors of 1/5 have distinguished themselves in Belleau Wood in World War I, Guadalcanal in World War II, Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War, Hue City in the Vietnam War, Al Fallujah in the Iraq War, and Helmand Province in Afghanistan, to name a few.
"1/5 has had an unbroken thread since the battle at Belleau Wood, France," said Johnson, the Castro Valley, Calif. native. "We still fly the same colors that flew in the Citadel during the Battle for Hue City in Vietnam, so we try to stay true to the history of this battalion."
As the rest of the battalion arrives, they will begin an extensive training regimen on Okinawa in preparation for the 31st MEU's regularly scheduled Spring Patrol deployment in the Asia-Pacific.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps' force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.