CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
As the commander of the United States' force in readiness for the Asia Pacific, he has put Marines ashore for every contingency from delivering humanitarian aid and disaster relief to practicing direct assault and capture of enemy-held beaches.
Colonel Andrew R. MacMannis assumed command of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in June of 2010, bringing years of expeditionary and amphibious experience to the only continuously forward-deployed expeditionary unit in the Marine Corps.
He has previously served at all levels of the MEU, including billets as the commander of the MEU's battalion landing team and the MEU operations officer. Each was a challenging position focused on amphibious operations, which helped prepare MacMannis for command of the complete Marine Air Ground Task Force.
"Anytime you have previous experience, it's a benefit," said MacMannis, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, "I learned a lot in my previous MEU billets, so I was able to recognize issues early."
MacMannis also believes that the unique properties of a MAGTF have helped develop himself as an officer.
“Too often we get to know only a small part of the Marine Corps, and while that is good to be a local expert, it does not help you develop and see the larger picture to where your expertise fits within the MAGTF,” said MacMannis, a native of Billings, N.Y.
As a MEU commander, MacMannis was responsible for the employment of more than 2,200 Marines and Sailors, while coordinating with the Navy's Amphibious Squadron 11, host nation militaries, and the U.S. embassy or consulate officials, to support five back-to-back deployments aboard naval ships.
"Commanding a MEU is a unique experience and requires a commander to have a strong operational background in expeditionary operations. I believe it is the hardest, but most rewarding job in the MEF for a Colonel," said Lt. Gen. Kenneth J. Glueck, commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force. "He must have knowledge and expertise in all the elements (air, ground and logistics), and to have the leadership ability to synchronize those capabilities in addressing the full spectrum of crisis response."
MacMannis led the 31st MEU during multi-lateral training exercise and operations in Japan, South Korea, the Kingdom of Thailand, the Republic of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Australia.
During those operations, the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU trained alongside more than a dozen nations to increase interoperability with allied forces.
Working with military counterparts from other nations, MacMannis led his unit through multi-lateral training in coordinated beach assaults, urban combat, jungle warfare, disaster relief, humanitarian aid, evacuation operations, and much more.
Putting thousands of troops, vehicles and equipment ashore from Navy ships in support of large scale exercises like Talisman Sabre in Australia and Cobra Gold in the Kingdom of Thailand requires exceptional planning and leadership.
"Colonel MacMannis’ amphibious expertise has been readily apparent to those around him and was consistently displayed by how well he commands and controls MEU operations from the ship,” said Lt. Col. Troy Roesti, executive officer of the 31st MEU. “His ability to disembark and employ the full combat power of the 31st MEU within 48 hours, and re-embark it upon mission completion in the same time frame is impressive."
A pivotal moment in MacMannis’ two-year command was when the 31st MEU was operating in a split configuration, with ships and troops geographically separated, on March 11, 2011.
With ships in Malaysia and Indonesia, the news came of the Northeast Japan earthquake and tsunami disasters requiring an urgent response.
Upon orders, MacMannis led the MEU in a lightning-fast transition between ongoing exercises and an actual operation. Within days, the MEU was in place off the coast of Japan providing assistance.
“The MEU's performance during Operation Tomodachi was outstanding,” said Glueck. “With minimal guidance, the MEU maximized their expeditionary capabilities and made a life-long impact on thousands of victims.”
Under MacMannis’ direction, 164,000 pounds of supplies were delivered along the devastated coastline and 400,000 pounds of debris were removed on Oshima Island, opening critical roads and ports for follow-on aid.
While other MEUs also respond to crises and conduct multi-lateral training with partner nations, no other MEU remains as continuously operational as the 31st MEU. MEU’s based on the east and west coasts of the U.S. are afforded the privilege of recovery and workup periods between deployments, but the 31st MEU and its commander have no such luxury.
The Okinawa-based 31st MEU does back-to-back deployments with very little relief, conducts frequent turnovers among component elements and has a condensed integration and certification periods.
“Colonel MacMannis’ leadership has proven to be pivotal to the success of the 31st MEU,” said Glueck. “His leadership and operational expertise created the conditions for successful mission accomplishment throughout his tour; from bi-lateral and multi-lateral exercises, to immediate crisis response, he has done it all safely and professionally.”
Working quickly to solve complex problems is something that the MEU leadership must be able to do successfully in order to meet the many assigned mission-essential tasks.
“The way that Col MacMannis dealt with the many complex challenges the 31st MEU faced while spread across the Asia/Pacific Region was inspiring,” said Roesti. “I was impressed by how well he could cut through all of the 'background noise' and get to the heart of any problem, and then come up with solutions that satisfied many competing requirements.”
While MacMannis’ record speaks highly of his successes, the double Master’s degree holder remains humble about past accomplishments, preferring instead to highlight his Marines and Sailors.
“I'd like to believe that my greatest accomplishment was to provide an environment for Marines to work in that allows for initiative and freedom of action,” he said. “If Marines and Sailors want to be a part of this organization, most everything else will fall into place.”
MacMannis finished his time as commander of the 31st MEU June 7, and will move on to work at Headquarters Marine Corps’ Plans, Polices and Operations office at the Pentagon, continuing to use his expeditionary experience to assist in guiding the future of the Marine Corps.