WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY, Okinawa, Japan -- With the return of USS Germantown (LSD-42) and USS Ashland (LSD-48), and the offload of approximately 900 Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, the unit’s third deployment of the year ended here, Dec. 3.
The unit returned after spending more than two weeks assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines in disaster relief efforts in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan during Operation Damayan, which means “lend a helping hand” in Tagalog, the native language.
The majority of the 31st MEU’s Logistics Combat Element and Command Element left Okinawa within 96 hours of receiving the mission, departing Nov. 17. The service members loaded the two ships of Amphibious Squadron 11, which arrived from Sasebo, Japan. Marines worked around the clock to load both Marines and equipment into the ships to get underway quickly and safely.
“A significant amount of work went into embarking the MEU in such a short time,” said Capt. Kolleen L. Young, the embarkation officer for the 31st MEU, and a native of Bradenton, Fla. “As a MEU, we showed that we can deploy at any time, at a moment’s notice and be a force in readiness.”
As the force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region, the 31st MEU continually trains for situations like these. The unit’s LCE, Combat Logistics Battalion 31, had just completed disaster relief training only days before the super typhoon struck the Philippines. The continuous training ensures the unit is prepared to provide any assistance that may be required.
“Without knowing that we would be participating in a real (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief) mission, CLB-31 was training for full scale HADR just a week before Typhoon Haiyan,” said Lt. Col. Omar J. Randall, the commanding officer of CLB-31, 31st MEU and a native of Bronx, N.Y. “Everything that we brought (on the deployment) was in preparation for the full range of disaster relief operations, including anything from debris clearance and water production to power generation.”
After a two-day transit from Okinawa, the 31st MEU was positioned off the coast of the Philippines in the Leyte Gulf, coordinating with the local government and the U.S. Agency for International Development to join the multinational relief efforts.
The 31st MEU delivered more than 79,000 pounds of rice and high-energy biscuits to remote villages that could not be reached by road or plane. The unique capabilities of the MV-22B Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, 31st MEU, allowed for faster deliveries and greater quantities when compared to other rotary aircraft.
Service members from the Philippine Armed Forces led the distribution efforts as volunteers from each village assisted. The European Union supplied the rice and biscuits, and the Marines supported their Philippine counterparts with both airlift and helping hands.
“A lot of Marines, from (private first class) to our most senior Marines, understood our purpose in this mission,” said Randall. “As soon as Marines learned that someone needed our help, they were excited about getting on the ships and getting out there to help.”
The 31st MEU is ideally suited for disaster relief operations, with aviation and amphibious platforms capable of rapidly delivering relief supplies, medical assistance, transportation and engineer equipment to affected areas. The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward deployed MEU.