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Marines with Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, board busses en route to Camp Hansen following their arrival on island, May 14. BLT 3/5 is replacing BLT 2/5 as the 31st MEU’s Ground Combat Element for the next six months, accompanying the MEU to for the upcoming annual Fall Patrol. The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force of choice for the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously-forward deployed MEU.

Photo by Sgt. Jonathan G. Wright

Continuing legacies cross paths as 31st MEU rotates infantry battalions

14 May 2014 | Sgt. Jonathan G. Wright

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa, Japan – Each Marine Corps unit is defined by its people or its accomplishments - from famous Marines within the ranks to historic events that turned the tide of battle, the legacy of years past is carried with pride to this day. For two units in particular, those defining years were during the Korean War and the battle of Okinawa.

The current generation of Marines within these two units briefly met during the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Ground Combat Element changeover, where 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, replaced 2nd Bn., 5th Marines, as the MEU’s Battalion Landing Team, May 11 through 16.

Both units are part of the 1st Marine Division stationed at Camp Pendleton, California.

The Marines of 2/5 initially made a name for themselves during the First World War at the Battle of Belleau Wood, where the unit’s tenacity and disregard for being outnumbered prompted the commanding officer to say, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” From there the battalion has played a substantial role in nearly every U.S. foreign involvement and is also recognized as the most decorated unit in the Marine Corps.

The battalion participated in the 31st MEU’s Spring Patrol, consisting of Amphibious Integration Training, a Certification Exercise and finally the multi-national training exercise SSang Yong held in the Republic of Korea. AIT consists of exercises held aboard the three naval ships of Amphibious Squadron 11 to ensure Marine and Navy elements operate efficiently side-by-side. CERTEX brings in evaluators from the Special Operations Training Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, to observe and assess the MEU’s proficiency in its operations at sea.

Every BLT assigned to the 31st MEU participates in bilateral training. The 31st MEU participated in Exercise Ssang Yong 2014 in the Republic of Korea, where BLT 2/5 trained alongside units from the ROK Marine Corps and Australian Army for two weeks. Various combat scenarios and training events including amphibious assaults, urban operations and live-fire ranges helped integrate the multinational forces into a lethal combined force.

“You get to a point where it’s no longer (BLT) 2/5 trying to work with ROK Marines, but two infantry units conducting an operation,” said Sgt. Gregory J. Dominguez, a machinegun section leader with Company F., BLT 2/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Bonita, California. “We learn to work efficiently with any foreign unit we train with and make friends along the way. I hope 3/5 gets the same out of their upcoming deployment with the MEU.”

BLT 3/5’s heritage includes involvement in the bloodiest battles of every war, from Belleau Wood to the Chosin Reservoir to Hue City and Fallujah. The battalion’s nickname, “Dark Horse,” is in memory of 3/5’s commanding officer in Korea, Col. Robert Taplett, whose callsign was “Dark Horse Six.” The battalion is also known for having the most Navy Crosses awarded to its Marines, earning two in Korea, five during fighting Iraq and one from Afghanistan.

“(BLT) 3/5 has a tremendous legacy, with one of the most notable events being the battle of Okinawa, 70 years ago right here,” said Lt. Col. Robert C. Rice, the commanding officer of BLT 3/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Richland, Washington. “So in addition to the unique training you can only get when attached to a MEU, we’re also going to conduct some (professional military education) and the Battle Site Tour to further teach the Marines who we are as a unit. We’re really looking forward to this MEU attachment.”

Both battalions have crossed paths before, having served in security capacities overseas.  In 1920 both units guarded U.S. mail trains in the States and the Caribbean, and in 1927 they provided security during the national elections in Nicaragua.

3/5’s previous deployment cycle was with the 15th MEU out of Camp Pendleton, California, yet the Marines are presented with new opportunities with the 31st MEU. The location and terrain of the island allows for training packages many have not yet experienced.

“A lot of us are looking forward to the Jungle Warfare Training Center and applying our patrolling skills in the deep jungle, plus the heat over here is different from that of a desert,” said Lance Cpl. Johnathan M. Carr, a mortarman with Weapons Co., BLT 3/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Sweetwater, Texas. “It’ll be hard work, but I hear it’s good training that’ll put us a step further ahead in our unit’s overall readiness.”

3/5 joins the 31st MEU prior to pre-deployment training for possible upcoming theater security operations. The deployment will expose the newer members of the battalion to foreign militaries while operating as part of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

“It was a satisfying payoff to see the challenging training we did in a foreign environment with foreign partners, pushing our Marines past their perceived limits,” said Capt. Jordan P. Jones, the commanding officer for Company F., BLT 2/5, 31st MEU, and a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. “If I had any one piece of advice for the incoming battalion, it’s to take advantage of all the opportunities Okinawa has to offer. Be flexible though, because with unique opportunities this MEU has to offer there are unique challenges with being on the only forward-deployed MEU.”

The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force of choice for the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit