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31st MEU departs for Middle East

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 200482605639
Story by - Consolidated Public Affairs Office

WHITE BEACH, OKINAWA, Japan — (Aug. 23, 2004) -- The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, with about 2,000 Marines and sailors, recently departed Okinawa for the Middle East to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The 31st MEU was issued deployment orders from the U.S. Secretary of Defense nearly a month earlier than its routine fall deployment, according to 1st Lt. Tryiokasus W. Brown, public affairs officer with the 31st MEU.

“Morale is high, and the Marines have been waiting to participate in the global war on terrorism for quite a long time,” said Maj. A.J. Kostic, executive officer, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, the 31st MEU’s ground combat element. “(Our) unit is highly trained and ready for any mission that is handed to us.”

The 31st MEU, one of seven such combined-arms, Marine air-ground task forces, is the only MEU that is permanently forward-deployed. Amphibious in nature and designed for joint operations and crisis response, the MEU is capable of performing numerous, concurrent, ship-to-shore, conventional and select-maritime special-operations missions.

This deployment is part of the Marine Corps’ commitment to security and stability around the world, according to Brown.

The 31st MEU is made up of: a command element based in Okinawa; a ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1/3 from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; an aviation combat element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-265 from Okinawa; and a combat service support element, MEU Service Support Group-31, also based in Okinawa.

The Marines of 1/3 have prepared to attach to the 31st MEU since January. One of the key training events was a Hawaii combined arms exercise at the Pohakuloa training area where Marines and sailors with 1/3 honed various combat-related skills, according to Kostic.

“We’ve been doing a lot of cross training,” said Lance Cpl. Doug D. Kieler, an assaultman with Weapons Company, BLT 1/3. “We (as assaultmen) specialize in demolitions, but (this year) we’ve been (training in the areas of) machine guns, the (tube launched, optically tracked, wire guided missile weapon system), convoy security and battlefield first aid. We’ve been prepped for missions we may see in Iraq.”

The cross training was important as MEUs are typically tasked with amphibious raids, noncombatant evacuations, security operations, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel, direct action, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief.

The embarkation process on Okinawa was delayed for two days due to Typhoon Meiji, according to Staff Sgt. Victor M. Olivares, logistics chief, BLT 1/3, who was responsible for loading vehicles and equipment onto USS Essex, a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship that serves as a platform for prompt, sustained, ship-to-shore combat operations using various combinations of helicopters, A/V-8B Harrier vertical-short take off and landing jets, and Navy hovercraft called landing craft air cushioned.

Other ships included in the Essex Amphibious Ready Group transporting the MEU are USS Harpers Ferry and USS Juneau. The USS Harpers Ferry is designed to dock, transport and launch LCACs and other amphibious craft, as well as vehicles with crews and Marines into potential trouble spots around the world. The USS Juneau, like the USS Essex, also conducts ship-to-shore combat operations using various combinations of aircraft and LCACs.

The 31st MEU is expected to return to Okinawa once it completes its mission, and MEU deployments typically last from four to seven months.

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