Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, Japan -- Between executing numerous beach assaults and lending a hand to a host of communities, the Marines and Sailors of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment left their mark in the Asia-Pacific as the battalion landing team of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The trans-Pacific journey from Okinawa, Japan, to Camp Pendleton, Calif., marks the end of the six-month rotation on the MEU as the BLT, which is simultaneously being replaced by 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, also from Camp Pendleton.
Known famously as “The Professionals,” their performance on the MEU lived up to their moniker after conducting multiple successful and historical operations. Beginning with integration training on Okinawa, they progressed to training on Guam with the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force, followed by playing a major role in Philippine Bilateral Amphibious Landing Exercise 13.
In Guam, a platoon of JGSDF soldiers embarked aboard USS Tortuga (LSD 46) to integrate with Company F., BLT 2/1, marking the first-ever bilateral embarkation between the two militaries. The JGSDF ate, slept and trained alongside the Marines during a month-long portion of Fall Patrol 2012. The integration proved to be a unique experience benefiting both sides.
“We worked with them (JGSDF) for about a month and a half and I was really impressed with their motivation, fitness levels, and eagerness to train,” said Capt. Tobin Walker, the commanding officer of Co. F., BLT 2/1, 31st MEU. “My Marines and I enjoyed training with them and hope to do it again in the future.”
During PHIBLEX 13, “The Professionals” spread out over multiple areas to cross-train with their Philippine counterparts, becoming familiar in each others’ weapon systems and tactics. The Marines had the chance to learn jungle survival skills and break bread with the Philippine Marines.
For Lt. Col. Andrew T. Priddy, the commanding officer of BLT 2/1, 31st MEU, the experiences in the Philippines were the focal point of the deployment for his battalion.
“Working with another professional and motivated Marine unit gave us the opportunity to integrate unique concepts from a different area of operations into our unit for future deployments,” said Priddy, a native of Channahon, Ill. “Working with the Philippine Marines was the highlight of our time spent with the MEU.”
Following PHIBLEX 13, the Marines and Sailors were afforded port visits in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and Hong Kong, China. Between mountain hiking, scuba diving and dabbling in the nightlife, these Marines got a unique taste of what Asia-Pacific culture has to offer.
The visits also presented an opportunity to show the generosity of Marines as they completed a combined 2384 community service hours in Okinawa, the Philippines, Guam and Hong Kong. From cleaning up public beaches to painting community centers, these Marines sought to leave an impact of goodwill throughout the region.
The 31st MEU afforded 2/1 a different perspective of the Marine Corps, after having recently returned from Afghanistan in 2011.
"Everyone was used to deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, not being a force in readiness. The Marines gained that experience here on the MEU, “said Gunnery Sgt. Farley A. Wooldridge II, the weapons platoon sergeant, Co. G., BLT 2/1, 31st MEU, and native of Richmond, Va. "With a MEU you're packing light, packing small and being ready at a moment's notice. In (Afghanistan) you're already there. This experience reiterates what the Marine Corps is; the 911 force for the world."
Embarking aboard ships from U.S. Navy Amphibious Squadron 11 and operating in the naval environment allowed these Marines to experience the historical roots of the Marine Corps.
“Working aboard the ship in close proximity with my peers gave me the opportunity to see how we integrate as an amphibious landing force alongside the Sailors,” said 1st Lt. Tom Myers, the motor transport platoon commander, BLT 2/1, and native of Austin, Texas. “It’s interesting to experience what Marines were made to do.”
The overall experience emphasized not only the importance of syncing our military ties with allied nations, but operating as an amphibious force as well.
“Transitioning to MEU operations is a significant change from those conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” added Priddy. “Conducting amphibious operations from Navy vessels is important for Marines to experience in this region. Our time spent with the 31st MEU will be a significant foundation for the battalion in the future.”
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps' force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.