PHILIPPINE SEA - The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, embarked aboard three ships of Amphibious Squadron 11, is heading towards the northeastern coast of mainland Japan and expects to arrive on March 16 in support of Operation Tomodachi.
The posturing of forces to Japan is to provide logistical support to the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) at their request, in wake of an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami, which followed the earthquake on March 13.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to our close friends and allies in Japan during this difficult time,” said Col. Andrew MacMannis, commanding officer, 31st MEU. “We are repositioning to be ready to support to our Japanese partners and to be near enough to provide support if called upon. Our support will compliment the services that the Government of Japan is already providing. We stand ready to help our partners in need as they work tirelessly to respond to this evolving crisis.”
With the JSDF leading Operation Tomodachi, U.S. Department of Defense assets are to provide search-and-rescue provisions, medical services, food, shelter, command and control, fuel and other capabilities.
The 31st MEU and Amphibious Squadron 11 received news of the earthquake and tsunami, the two commands started planning disaster relief efforts.
The majority of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is embarked on board the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). Sailors and Marines were recalled back to ship after arriving in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, for a port visit when the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Essex departed from Malaysia the next day on March 12 transiting back to Japan.
Elements of the 31st MEU are also embarked on board the amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), which was scheduled to participate in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum Disaster Relief Exercise March 14-18 in Indonesia, a multi-lateral disaster planning and exercises.
Other Marines of the 31st MEU are embarked on board amphibious dock landing USS Germantown (LSD 42), which is transiting back to Japan too.
“The U.S.-Japan Alliance, which spans more than 50 years, is strong and will continue to deepen throughout our continued engagement and support of one another,” said Capt. Bradley Lee, commander, PHIBRON 11. “Japan is a longstanding, critical ally in the region, and our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan during this very difficult, tragic time.”
Helicopters and C-130 aircraft of III Marine Expeditionary Force have already been sent to the affected region, with additional equipment to follow, and planning continues to be ready to respond when tasked.
“As long time allies, U.S. and Japan forces are extremely interoperable,” said MacMannis.
“The 31st MEU participated in training with the Japanese Self Defense Forces as recently as last month in the Kingdom of Thailand, practicing personnel evacuation and practicing for humanitarian aid scenarios.”
In December 2010, forces of the 31st MEU participated in the JSDF exercise Forest Light, a bilateral training event designed to enhance interoperability in Kyushu, Japan.
“Disaster relief efforts are always organized by civilian leadership, and the military’s logistics capabilities – the ability to move supplies and people by air, ground and sea – makes us an ideal response team to support those efforts,” said Lt. Col. William Arick, commanding officer, Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU. “The 31st MEU’s purpose in disaster relief is to alleviate human suffering and prevent the loss of life by rapidly delivering critical capabilities.”
The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 team has responded to four humanitarian assistance disaster relief situations in the last two years alone. The organization is prepared to deliver robust air, ground, and maritime transportation; medical and dental health services; distribution services; and engineering assets as directed.
The 31st MEU includes more than 2,200 Marines and Sailors and is comprised of four elements: the Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion; 5th Marines; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) and CLB-31.
The 31st MEU provides a forward-deployed, flexible, sea-based force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations.
The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains the nation’s force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.