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HA Planning continues as 15th MEU (SOC) nears affected regions

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 20051295255
Story by Lance Cpl. Scott L. Eberle

ABOARD USS BONHOMME RICHARD (Jan. 2, 2005) -- In the wake of the recent tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean and claimed more than 100,000 lives, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) has begun gearing up for one of the largest Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations in history.


While heading full speed to the affected area, Marines and Sailors have been working hard to prepare thousands of Meals Ready to Eat, pallets full of purified water and other supplies to hit the ground to immediately help relieve the suffering of thousands of victims left devastated by the catastrophe.


Scores of people were left homeless, in need of food and clean water when giant waves ripped across several coastal nations in the Indian Ocean. The 15th MEU (SOC) was on their way to the Western Pacific when the natural disaster took place. They were scheduled to spend five days of training in Guam before being called to provide assistance in the region. The USS Bonhomme Richard and USS Duluth spent just a few short hours in Guam loading supplies needed for the HAO.


On New Year’s Day a working party of Marines went through more than 750 cases of MREs and removed meals that contained food not appropriate for some of the cultures affected by the tsunami.


“The entire 15th MEU will not all be going to same location. On January 4th, the USS Duluth will break off from the rest of the pack to provide assistance in Indonesia”, according to Staff Sgt. Shannon E. Middleton, the fire support chief and assistant operations chief for the MEU.


The Marines and Sailors aboard Bonhomme Richard are scheduled to land in Sri Lanka, while the Duluth will be providing critical aviation support to Indonesia, according to Staff Sgt. Julio C. Dominguez, the engineer chief for the MEU Service Support Group.


Because the Marines and Sailors aboard Duluth will be performing different missions, Marines with the Battalion Landing Team have cross-decked from the BHR to the Duluth, in addition to MEU Service Support Group-15 coming from Duluth to the BHR.


“The MSSG has been preparing for a humanitarian mission of this type for about 12 months now and is more prepared for [an actual] mission,” said Dominguez. “By bringing more MSSG Marines to the Bonhomme Richard, we are trying to raise our capability to meet the requirements of the HAO [in Sri Lanka].”


Originally, 15th MEU was headed to the Arabian Gulf for scheduled training, but since this event occurred, many of the Marines said they are more than happy to lend a hand. “Anything we can do to help is good,” said Lance Cpl. Pedro Garcia Jr., a 22-year-old radio operator with the BLT. “As long as the disaster gets cleaned up and the people get food and water, that’s what is important.”


The ACE will be playing a key role in supporting the HAO, according to Michael C. Callaghan, a CH-46 pilot for the 15th MEU. “Our first objective is to get our humanitarian aid supplies from our ships into camps established in the country. Once all of our supplies are in the camps, our focus will shift to distributing the supplies throughout the country.”
Two CH-46s will move from the Bonhomme Richard to the Duluth to help support them with their side of the mission according to Callaghan.


It’s not just Marines that are cross decking from the Duluth to the Bonhomme Richard. “The Duluth is handing over a bulldozer, sea tractor, and a tram, and we already have an M-9 Ace to take into country with us,” according to Gunnery Sgt. Jason E. Cornelison, the Combat Cargo assistant for well deck operations. “We are basically taking all the supplies of a construction crew to help tear down the rubble and rebuild the area.”


“Along with the tractors, the MEU will be packing chainsaws, shovels, lumber, over 750 cases of MREs, and 900 cases of purified water to distribute to the victims,” said Cornelison. “ Combat Cargo is ready and standing by to help in any way necessary to support the humanitarian mission.”

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