Sailors, Marines Honor Victims of Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami
By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Carla Burdt, Amphibious Squadron 11 Public Affairs
EAST CHINA SEA - USS Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) held a remembrance ceremony and paused for a moment of silence on March 11 to honor the victims of the Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami.

The ceremony was held to honor the victims of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011.

Following the tragedy, Amphibious Squadron Eleven (PHIBRON 11) and the 31st MEU, then embarked aboard USS Essex (LHD 2), were sent to provide humanitarian assistance to survivors of the disaster.

Captain Heidi Agle, currently Commodore, PHIBRON 11 served as CPR11 Deputy Commodore embarked on USS Essex during Operation Tomodachi and spoke about the enduring spirit of the Japanese people, who persevered in the face of tragedy.

"The efficiency, determination and capabilities of the Japanese emergency responders were incredible," said Agle. "I was truly impressed by their bravery and determination."

When the earthquake occurred, the 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 team was in port in Malaysia. Within 24 hours, the ships of the ARG were steaming toward Japan.

"Operation Tomodachi showed the world and our Japanese friends why we are such an effective maritime contingency force," said Marine Col. John Merna, commanding officer of the 31st MEU. "The friendships made with the people of Oshima Island continue to this day."

On Oshima Island, 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 used landing craft to transport Japanese utility trucks and Marine recovery gear to restore basic services. According to Agle, recovery efforts were significantly accelerated by working side by side with island residents.

"I will never forget the people of Oshima and their stoic resiliency," said Agle. "It is a true credit to the Japanese people that in the face of tragedy and unimaginable loss, they focused on a brighter future finding hope and amazing strength from within."

In his closing remarks, Merna asked his Marines to remember the events of March 11 as they participated in amphibious integration training.

"I encourage you to keep the people of Oshima Island and the victims of the 2011 disaster in your thoughts and prayers," said Merna. "I also encourage you to stay ready, stay flexible, as you never know when we may be called to lend a hand to a friend in need. Semper Fidelis."
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