PACIFIC OCEAN - As the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) helps conduct humanitarian assistance missions off the northeast coast of Japan in support of Operation Tomodachi March 21, officials are being careful to check equipment and personnel coming back to the ship for possible low-level radioactive contamination.
Though the Marines and Sailors of the MEU are not in danger from contamination, USS Essex (LHD 2) recently brought a team of radiological control technicians aboard, made up of eight civilians and 13 U.S. service members, as a proactive measure.
“Our duties are to monitor aircraft and flight crews that might go into potential radioactive zones, and if they are contaminated, to ensure they are decontaminated properly when they return,” said George Dowyer, a supervisory physical science technician.
To do this, the team uses radiological monitoring equipment designed to detect beta particles and gamma energy. If there are aircraft or flight crews that return are contaminated with the low-level radioactive material, the team will decontaminate them quickly and easily. In this situation, the method of decontaminating is simply washing with water to rinse possible contaminates away. Dowyer, like most of the team, volunteered to take on this job.
“We are all trained to do this,” said Dowyer. “We jumped at the chance to come over here and do this job.”
Dowyer went on to say they have similar teams on multiple ships in the area, all of which are doing the same job and ensuring everyone’s safety.
“Once all of our teams are in place, we will stay on top of this,” said Dowyer.
The Marine Corps requires all Marines to conduct chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense training on a yearly basis to stay familiarized with the equipment and maintain a constant state of readiness.
“We practice to operate in contaminated environments as part of our regular annual training,” said Col. Andrew MacMannis, the commanding officer of the 31st MEU. “We are well prepared and ready to provide assistance under any conditions. The safety and security of our men and women is one of our top priorities.”
The team was brought in to aid the 31st MEU during the delivery of humanitarian aid and disaster relief supplies to areas of Japan hit by an earthquake and tsunami which caused widespread devastation.
Navy and Marine Corps involvement in the relief mission is part of a larger U.S. government response, coordinated through the U.S. Department of State, aiding the government of Japan in their ongoing relief efforts.
As part of Operation Tomodachi, the 31st MEU is ready to support its long-time Japanese partners and to provide assistance when called upon.