CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan -- The beads of sweat fell from his forehead as the Marine struggled to loosen the lug nut on a truck tire. The white from his knuckles peeked through the coating of grease on his hands as he strained, but he was determined to beat the tire in this battle.
Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit coordinated their efforts as part of the two-week-long “Maintenance Stand-Down” here, Oct. 7 through 18.
The high operational tempo of the 31st MEU causes substantial wear and tear on the vehicles and equipment. Unit-wide maintenance initiatives are implemented at the end of every deployment to combat the depreciation.
“The last thing we want is for any piece of equipment to become unusable, and the problem multiplies if it happens during an exercise or operation,” said Lance Cpl. Parker W. Drake, a radio operator for Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU, and a native of Ackley, Iowa. “While broken or faulty gear is the priority, it would be setting ourselves up for failure if that’s all we focus on.”
Nearly every piece of equipment is disassembled, inspected and reassembled with necessary preventative measures to ensure longevity. The Marines even work on equipment appearing to be in good condition in order to prevent unwanted surprises during operations.
General readiness of equipment is the responsibility of every subordinate unit in the 31st MEU. However, if a repair is beyond the capabilities of a unit, the job is handed over to CLB-31’s maintenance Marines. From there, it is either repaired by CLB-31’s specially-trained Marines or transported to Camp Foster for more complicated repairs .
"There are five echelons of maintenance, first echelon pertaining to the equipment operators, second through fourth handled by maintenance facilities and fifth being depot or manufacturer," said Sgt. Justin N. Johnson, a communications maintenance chief for CLB-31, 31st MEU. "Each battalion within the MEU is able to perform echelons of maintenance one and two, and they come to CLB-31 for echelon three or four with CLB-31 also performing the second echelon maintenance for platoons within the CLB."
Everything from the plug of a radio handset to the hydraulics of a forklift was inspected and reinforced for future operations. While much of the work is considered tedious and slow, the Marines consider the payoff of having functioning equipment worth the work.
“There’s a humvee being inspected outside that doesn’t have anything wrong, that we know of,” said Johnson, a native of El Cajon, Calif. “But if we take that for granted, it could break down in the middle of an exercise or, worse, a (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) mission .”
The 31st MEU recently returned from a regularly scheduled Fall Patrol, where it conducted bilateral training with the Australian Defense Forces during multiple live-fire exercises. The unit is now preparing for its regularly scheduled Spring Patrol aboard the ships of Amphibious Squadron Eleven.
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.