WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, Okinawa, Japan -- With the return of the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and the offload of more than 1,000 Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, the MEU’s regularly scheduled Fall Patrol ended here, Sept. 25.
The unit returned after spending nearly three months patrolling the Asia-Pacific region and conducting bilateral training exercises with the Australian Defense Forces.
Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines; Combat Logistics Battalion 31 and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), all with the 31st MEU, left Okinawa in late June. The service members were divided among the three ships of Amphibious Squadron 11; the USS BHR (LHD 6), the USS Denver (LPD 9) and the USS Germantown (LSD 42).
The “Blue/Green” team headed for Australia after embarking to participate in Talisman Saber 13 and Exercise Koolendong 13. Each element of the MEU spent weeks training alongside their Australian counterparts in realistic combat scenarios to improve their interoperability.
“This was the first time I have had the opportunity to train with a structured army from another nation, so I gained experience that will benefit me in the future,” said Cpl. William S. Parker, the 21-year-old training non-commissioned officer with Company E., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU and a native of Melbourne, Fla. “We were able to see a different environment and experience being a part of the (Marine Corps’ Marine Air Ground Task Force).”
During Talisman Saber 13, the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU were pitted against elements of the 7th Brigade, Royal Australian Army, in a realistic combat training scenario. The mission of the 31st MEU was to conduct an amphibious assault using ground forces, eliminate the “enemy” and then provide security for the civilian populace role-played by Australian soldiers.
“With a full blown scenario in place and having a detailed understanding of what we were against, we honed our skills in going from a combat environment to posting a local force in control,” said Capt. Kyle Wolfe, the 30-year-old commanding officer of Co E., BLT 2/4, 31st MEU, and a native of St. Joseph, Ill. “We were able to do all the things that an infantry company would have to do in a situation like that. We patrolled, ambushed and fought the enemy, but at the same time we interacted with the local civilians and helped them out.”
Once Talisman Saber 13 was complete, the unit immediately began their certification exercise. CERTEX is a two-week event, evaluated by Special Operations Training Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, to test the 31st MEU’s proficiency in its full spectrum of capabilities for real-world operations. CERTEX was conducted at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia.
After a successful CERTEX, the ships sailed around the coast of Australia for the next training event. To begin Exercise Koolendong 13, the 31st MEU moved a battalion-sized force more than 300 miles inland from the Port of Darwin using a 57-vehicle convoy and aircraft from VMM-265 (REIN). The week-long exercise featured combined-arms, live-fire training with the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin and a company of soldiers from the 5th Royal Australian Army. The exercise also demonstrated the operational reach of the 31st MEU and its ability to be self-sustained and ready for any mission.
“(Exercise Koolendong) truly demonstrated what amphibious forces can bring to the table, something not all joint forces could do,” said Col. John E. Merna, Commanding Officer of the 31st MEU, and native of Prince George County, Md.
Now back to their homeport on Okinawa, Japan, the 31st MEU will receive a new ground combat element and begin training for their next patrol.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.