– The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU)
wrapped up relief operations with the Japan Maritime and Ground
Self-Defense Forces in support of Operation Tomodachi on April 7.
After nearly three weeks of conducting
humanitarian aid and disaster relief efforts for Operation Tomodachi,
which means ‘friendship’ in Japanese, to assist the Government of
Japan in responding to the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake and
subsequent tsunami that struck Japan, March 11.
On the day of the disaster, the 31st MEU was in Southeast Asia in
various countries conducting exercises and training. The Marines
embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2 had
just completed an exercise in Cambodia, upon arriving in Malaysia
for a port visit. When 31st MEU leadership received news of the
tsunami, they initiated an immediate recall of all personnel, who
were away from the ship on liberty. The ship quickly took on some
supplies, and in less than 24 hours was underway to Japan where it
met up with USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49).
Germantown and Harpers Ferry were both in Indonesia with elements of
the 31st MEU embarked, who were scheduled to participate in a large
humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise starting March
12. But, both ships were immediately alerted upon news of the
disaster and headed back to Japan..
The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 31st MEU first
arrived off the coast of Akita, Japan, March 17 and to start flying
coastal surveillance flights. Then, on March 22, the ARG
repositioned off the east coast of Japan, near the city of Hachinohe.
The 31st MEU immediately started ferrying relief supplies ashore via
helicopters of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 262, as the
squadron delivered water, blankets, and other health and comfort
items. HMM-262 conducted a total of 15 survey missions and 204
supply delivery missions with nearly 300 hours of flight time.
“We train for this, we’re good at this, and in fact, in the last 3
years, the MEU has conducted five different humanitarian assistance
missions,” said Col. Andrew MacMannis, 31st MEU commanding officer.
“Most of the Marines aboard have executed a mission or have trained
and been evaluated on it.”
On March 27, the MEU and Essex ARG’s started disaster relief
operations on the isolated island of Oshima. The units transported
relief supplies, which included moving commercial electric utility
vehicles, a fuel truck, water re-supply vehicle and civilian workers
from the Tohoku Power Company by a landing craft utility to restore
partial power to the cut-off island.
Two pallets of clothes, blankets, food and toys donated by Marines
and Sailors were flown to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
helicopter-carrying destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181) by Marine
helicopters, where they were distributed to displaced residents of
Oshima Island, who were temporarily embarked aboard the ship.
Working alongside the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, the 31st MEU
delivered 15,000 pounds of supplies to the island and cleared tons
of debris from harbors, roads and beaches. Marines also created
temporary shower facilities allowing residents to bathe. For some it
was the first time they had been able to take a shower since the
“When I first heard about the mission it was a little bit of a
surreal feeling because the MEU trains for missions like this,” said
Capt. Bradley Gibson, CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter pilot with
HMM-262. “Although it is a devastating time for the people of Japan,
it is also exciting to be able to execute the mission and use the
training. There is an immediate sense of pride when you know you’re
going to be part of something that is going to help so many people.”
In total, the 31st MEU and the Essex ARG moved more than 160,000
pounds of relief supplies to those affected by the disaster.
“It’s great to have this sort of opportunity,” said Hospital
Corpsman 3rd Class Emilio Casenave, with Battalion Landing Team 2nd
Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st MEU. “I’ve never seen anything like
this. These people are in a horrible situation, but it’s a great
feeling knowing something we did actually impact someone’s life and
helped make it better.”
JMSDF Lt. Hiroaki Tanaka, who served as a liaison officer between
Japanese and U.S. Forces in the area, expressed appreciation on
behalf of the people of Japan.
“Thank you,” said Tanaka. “We are extremely thankful for your help
and cooperation. I will never forget everything you have done for
As it currently stands, the 31st MEU does not have any other relief
missions planned. The MEU remains available for tasking, but does
not expect the Government of Japan to require further assistance.
The Marines have helped their friends in their time of need and
stand ready to support any cause as directed.
The 31st MEU is the United State’s only continually forward-deployed
MEU, and remains ready to respond to a wide range of crisis and