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31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Maritime Contingency Force) (31st MEU)
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (31st MEU[SOC])

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Maritime Contingency Force), or 31st MEU, provides a forward deployed, flexible sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations in the Asia-Pacific area. The 31st MEU is the only permanently forward-deployed MEU. The 31st MEU, Amphibious Squadron 11 (PHIBRON 11), and the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group (USS Essex ARG), comprise the only Forward Deployed Naval Force (FDNF) in the Asia-Pacific region.

The 31st MEU is not a special operations force by definition, but because of the its forward-deployed status in "hot spots" around the world, it must be able to perform many types of missions in addition to conventional military war-fighting. The 31st MEU, by enhanced training, achieves the capability to accomplish selective maritime special operations. MEUs in general are capable of quick reaction rapidly assembling required forces to accomplish missions, using intelligence based operational decision making, and acting as a rapid response force. In addition to the 10 Mission Essential Tasks (METS) that each MEU is thoroughly trained in prior to deployment, 31st MEU has 4 addition METS: Maritime Contingency Operations, Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure Level II and III (VBSS), seizure of maritime platform and selected maritime security missions, and limited scale raids.

Prior to 2006, the 31st MEU was designation was Special Operations Capable, or 31st MEU(SOC). Combined with its forward deployed status, it had 84 days to accomplish a standard 6 month Pre-Deployment Training Cycle. This meant the members of the MEU, Battalion Landing Team, Air Combat Element, and MEU Service Support Group staffs had to learn quickly and get it right the first time. Time was not on their side and they had to be able to identify and address issues quickly. Though the Marine Corps' other 6 MEUs requalified as Special Operations Capable every 18 months, the 31st MEU requalified every 6 months as new Major Subordinate Elements rotated to the MEU. This gave the Marines only 70 to 84 days to complete their qualification.

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) was first activated on 1 March 1967, as Special Landing Force Alpha (SLF-A), for operations in Vietnam. It made the first of many amphibious deployments from Okinawa, Japan to the coast of Vietnam on 10 April 1967. SLF-A's first operation was conducted on 14 April 1967, when the unit conducted a rescue of the crew of the SS Silver Peak, a Panamanian vessel run aground by Typhoon Violet, in vicinity of Minami Ko Shima Island, Japan.

On 20 April 1967, SLF-A was committed to Operation Beaver Cafe/Union #1, a search and destroy mission in the Republic of Vietnam. From May to September 1967, Special Landing Force Alpha was entrusted to ground operations 22 days out of each month. It was during this period of intense combat that Special Landing Force Alpha earned the Presidential Unit Citation. The unit participated in supporting operations ashore until 1970, including the Vietnam Tet counteroffensive in 1969, returning to Okinawa periodically for re-outfitting and to rotate its component forces.

Special Landing Force Alpha was officially designated as the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) on 24 November 1970. Once more the unit returned to the Gulf of Tonkin. This time, however, the 31st MAU would not be committed to overt land operations as the Vietnam War was winding down. The 31st MAU performed presence missions and conducted a series of special operations through May 1971. From June 1971 until April 1975, the 31st MAU conducted numerous deployments to the waters off Vietnam. During this period, the 31st MAU was directed to the Gulf of Thailand for Operation Eagle Pull, the American Embassy evacuation by air of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which took place on 12 April 1975. The 31st MAU then returned to the waters off of Vietnam for Operation Frequent Wind on 29 April 1975. This operation was the final evacuation of Saigon as North Vietnamese forces entered the city.

The 31st MAU remained the forward-deployed US presence in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. Combat operations were replaced by regional exercises, which allowed training opportunities in a variety of countries. In 1983, the 31st MAU was recalled from a combined exercise with local forces in Kenya, and positioned in the Mediterranean. Its mission from September to October 1983 was to support US Peacekeeping Forces in Beirut during an intense period of complex political and life-threatening conditions in Lebanon. It was the 31st MAU's last combat operation and the unit was deactivated in May 1985.

The unit was reactivated as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (MEU[SOC]) on 9 September 1992. In 1994, the unit was relocated to Camp Hansen, in Okinawa, Japan.

The flexibility of the USS Belleau Wood Amphibious Ready Group was demonstrated with the November 1998 crisis with Iraq. All 4 ARG ships had just completed Exercise Foal Eagle off the coast of Korea, and were heading to various port visits for some liberty, when each ship received the call on 6 November 1998 to sail immediately to Okinawa to offload Marine Air Ground Task Force 4 personnel, and onload the 31st MEU(SOC). A significant portion of the 31st MEU's 2,000 Marines were engaged in urban warfare training in Guam when their message to return to Okinawa came. The rest were still on Okinawa, but approximately a quarter of those were new marines, just rotating into the MEU's Battalion Landing Team (BLT) from California. The BLT had just 2 days to gather all their personnel to get ready to deploy.

The 31st MEU and ships' company personnel started their initial onloads to the ships on 9 November 1998, and completed around 2:30 AM on the morning of 11 November 1998. In one night alone, they loaded more than 170 pallets of equipment, weapons, and cargo. In addition, a USAF C-5 from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California, originally scheduled to bring maintenance supplies and tools to Okinawa 2 weeks later, arrived early on 10 November 1998 in order to restock the MEU's Air Combat Element. This evolution was a part of the normal supply rotation, but the shipment arrived a week early, just in time to load onto the ships before they departed. From November 1998 to February 1999, the MEU participated in operations in the Persian Gulf and off the coast of Kuwait, including Operation Southern Watch and Operation Desert Fox.

Training exercises and a real-world operation kept the Marine Corps' only permanently forward-deployed MEU on its toes in 2000. Starting the year off right, portions of the MEU, including G Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, then the MEU's Battalion Landing Team; portions of the Command Element; and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (HMM-265), the MEU's former Air Combat Element; and MEU Service Support Group 31 deployed to East Timor in January 2000 aboard USS Juneau (LPD-10) as Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force East Timor. In East Timor, the Marines and Sailors supported the transition from the Australian-led International Forces in East Timor (INTERFET) to the new United Nations Transitional Administration East Timor (UNTAET).

In July 2000, the MEU welcomed a new Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2/4th Marines, and a new Air Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (HMM-262), beginning a new training cycle. After conducting successful Training in an Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX), Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise (MEUEX), and ARG training, the Marines once again earned their SOC title in October 2000, this time aboard the ARG's new flagship, USS Essex (LHD-2).

On 21 October 2000, the 31st MEU(SOC) aboard USS Essex (LHD-2) arrived off the coast of Pohang, Republic of Korea to participate in Exercise Foal Eagle 2000. Exercise Foal Eagle was an annual regularly scheduled joint-combined exercise conducted between Republic of Korea forces and the US forces on the Korean Peninsula. The exercise, conducted at a variety of locations throughout the country, was designed to test rear area protection operations and major command, control and communication systems and increase interoperability and familiarity of US Operations Plan-tasked units. It provided hands-on field experience for forces of both nations and served as the foundation for diplomatic efforts to achieve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue. For Foal Eagle 2000, 31st MEU Marines participated in exercises to include/ but not limited to, combined Nuclear, Biological, Chemical decontamination training; various joint and combined live-fire exercises; a combined amphibious assault; and a field training exercise.

In December 2000, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, rotated to the MEU as its new Ground Combat Element, and HMM-265 came back aboard as the Air Combat Element. A new training cycle and new, high op tempo year began in January 2001. On 15 January 2001, the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU(SOC) kicked off the bi-annual TRUEX 01-1 at Andersen Air Force Base. Held in Guam, TRUEX afforded the Marines of the 31st MEU the chance to sharpen their skills in small-scale urban training. Most of the Marines and Sailors participating embarked aboard the USS Essex (LHD-2) and steamed for the coast of the small South Pacific island to support the exercise.

The newest units recently assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) were fully incorporated into the MEU's 18th training cycle to complement its ability to function as a complete Marine Air Ground Task Force. HMM-262 (+) and Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment were to partake in a series of interoperability training exercises, as they had stepped in as the MEU's aviation and ground combat elements, respectively.

On 12 September 2001 in Okinawa Japan, the Marines of the 31st MEU were secured in their barracks on Camp Hansen as a super typhoon was passing over the island. The community became aware of the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC on 11 September 2001, located on the other side of the international date line, through the Armed Forces Network television and radio stations, and word quickly spread. That evening the 31st MEU received a 96-hour warning order for deployment and was notified that the Navy ships were enroute to load as quickly as possible. Although the storm was still in progress, Marines prepared their personal gear, plans were made, and vehicles and equipment were quickly moved to the port facility and onto the ships. The helicopter squadron was the last to board due to the passing storm, and the on-load was successfully completed in 93 hours. The 31st MEU then steamed south towards their anticipated destination, Afghanistan. As the ships passed Singapore, their destination was changed to East Timor. There the MEU again supported UNTAET operations. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, just returning from a deployment to East Timor, was instead assigned the task of heading to Afghanistan.

In mid-August 2004, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit received deployment orders to the Central Command area of responsibility to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. For operational reasons, specific dates for troop movements were not releasable at the time. The 2,000-member 31st MEU was loaded on the amphibious assault ships USS Essex, USS Juneau and USS Harpers Ferry, which left Okinawa by the end of August 2004. The 31st MEU was, at the time, expected to return to Okinawa once its mission was completed. While it was not possible to provide a specific date for the unit's return, typical Marine deployments lasted from 4-7 months. The unit would remain deployed as long as needed to best support Central Command.

The 31st MEU's deployment to the Central Command's area of responsibility was part of the Marine Corps commitment to security and stability all around the world as part of the Global War on Terrorism. The US remained fully committed to Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Japan, and to ensuring the security and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. US Pacific Command maintained the capability to provide a prudent deterrent posture in the Western Pacific. The US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region demonstrated the US commitment to the defense of Japan, as well as security and stability in the region.

From September 2004 to March 2005, the 31st MEU, including Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, reinfored with C Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, conducted combat actions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Participation includined a major role in Operation Phantom Fury, the clearing of Fallujah in November 2004.

With organizational changes to Marine Corps' reconnaissance units in 2006, all MEUs had their Special Operations Capable (SOC) designations removed. The 31st MEU then became titled as a Maritime Contingency Force, although it remained capable of conducting the same wide variety of specialized missions on both sea and land.

In February 2006, the 31st MEU was sent to the Philippines to provide relief assistance during the mudslides in southern Leyte. In May and June of 2008, the MEU participated in Operation Caring Response after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar. In October 2009, the MEU returned to the Philippines and assisted in humanitarian and disaster relief in Luzon after Typhoons Ketsana and Parma hit back to back. Simultaneously, elements of the MEU assisted in Sumatra, Indonesia after earthquakes struck the region. In Oct 2010, the 31st MEU conducted humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in northern Luzon after Super Typhoon Megi hit the Philippines.

Following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsnuami hitting Japan on 11 March 2011, the 31st MEU was split into 3 separate parts. The largest ship, USS Essex (LHD 2), with most of the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU aboard, had just completed an exercise in Cambodia and had arrived 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 would meet up with USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49).

The USS Germantown and USS Harpers Ferry were both in Indonesia with elements of the 31st MEU embarked, and Marines and Sailors aboard the Harpers Ferry were scheduled to participate in a large humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise starting on 12 March 2011. Both ships were immediately alerted upon news of the disaster in Japan and headed north for the stricken country in support of what would become Operation Tomodachi.

The Essex ARG and the 31st MEU first arrived off the coast of Akita, Japan on 17 March 2011 and began flying coastal surveillance flights in the initial stages of Operation Tomodachi. On 22 March 2011, the ARG repositioned off the east coast of Japan, near Hachinohe, and the 31st MEU immediately began delivering relief supplies ashore via helicopters of HMM-262 (Reinforced). Supplies delivered included 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.

On 27 March 2011, the MEU and Essex ARG's priority became support to the isolated island of Oshima as part of Operation Tomodachi. Elements of the 31st MEU, including HMM-262 (+), Combat Logistics Battalion 31; 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines; and the command element went ashore on Oshima Island to remove debris, deliver critical supplies to the isolated area, and provide life support.

Combat Logistics Battalion 31 began by transporting relief supplies, which included moving commercial electric utility vehicles, a fuel truck, a water resupply vehicle, along with civilian workers from the Tohoku Power Company by US Navy landing craft to attempt to restore partial power to the cut-off island. The same day the utility vehicles were delivered, the island received power for the first time since the disaster had struck. During the Oshima operation, pallets of clothes, blankets, and food were also flown to the JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS Hyuga (DDH 181) by Marine helicopters, where they were distributed to displaced residents of the island who were temporarily embarked aboard the ship.

Working alongside the JGSDF, 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 tsunami struck. In total, the 31st MEU and the Essex ARG moved 164,000 pounds of relief supplies to those affected by the disaster, including 5 cities, Oshima Island and the Japanese ship.

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Page last modified: 03-10-2011 17:35:07 ZULU