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Navy, Marine Corps team serve as America's 911 force in the Asia-Pacific Region

US Marine Corps News

10/23/2009 By Sgt. Rodolfo Toro, 31st MEU

The possibility of war in today’s world is a global concern. Coupled with natural disasters, the potential for a region to become destabilized is ever-present.

The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Amphibious Squadron Eleven (PHIBRON-11), remain part of America’s 911 force in the Asia-Pacific Region, according to United States Pacific Command.

The 31st MEU is a forward-deployed maritime contingency force comprised of several elements that form a floating Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF).

In 1962, Marine Corps Order 3120.3 was released and detailed that a MAGTF is capable of handling various types of missions due to its unique composition and capability.

Elements in a MAGTF can include fixed-wing and helicopter assets called an air combat element (ACE), a battalion-size ground combat element (GCE), called a battalion landing team, a logistics combat element (LCE) to provide service support and a command element (CE) to coordinate efforts between them all.

However, the 31st MEU owes its maritime capability to its U.S. Navy brethren PHIBRON-11.

PHIBRON-11 is comprised of the flagship USS Essex (LHD 2), the alternate flagship, USS Tortuga (LSD 46), USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Denver (LPD 9). The ships transport the MEU and its assets during training exercises and patrols around the Asia-Pacific Region.

Together the MEU and PHIBRON-11 enhance each other’s capability in performing its missions.

“The MEU and PHIBRON are working together as one team to accomplish its missions. For any type of amphibious operation, you must have very close (Navy/Marine) cooperation in order to move personnel and equipment from ship to shore and back again,” said Col. Paul L. Damren, 31st MEU commanding officer.

The North Belgrade, Maine native added, the MEU/PHIBRON-11 team recently provided relief supplies in support of two simultaneous HA/DR (Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief) operations. One in the Republic of the Philippines in the aftermath of Tropicals Storm Ketsana and Pepeng, and the other in the Western Province of Sumatra, Indonesia, after several earthquakes rocked the region.

Lt. Col. Raphael Hernandez, operations officer for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, Combined Coordination Cell, echoed Damren in an earlier interview with an Okinawa Marine newspaper journalist saying, “The mission will require unique support from both land and sea,” referring to the HA/DR mission in the Republic of the Philippines. Hernandez added that the combined capabilities of the Landing Craft Air Cushioned of Amphibious Squadron 11, Expeditionary Strike Group 7, Commander Task Force 76, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet, and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters will provide a significant positive impact in rescue operations.

According to Damren, the MEU serves as a formidable force; postured to respond forcefully if necessary in aggressive situations to deter violence, or respond with Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) aid in the wake of natural disasters or national crises.

Bilateral exercises such as Amphibious Landing Exercise, Korean Incremental Training Program, Balikatan, Cobra Gold, Forest Light, Talisman Saber and Foal Eagle keep the MEU and PHIBRON-11 forces in readiness.

“We will train to execute the full range of core capabilities inherent within a Marine Expeditionary Unit with the initial priority of effort weighted toward amphibious raids, Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) and Foreign Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief Operations (FHA/DR),” Damren said.

PHIBRON-11’s logistics crew along with the MEU’s, helps facilitate basic mission requirements while at sea.

“Billeting, messing, medical services, transportation and supply support are just some of the most basic and important needs that all Marine Corps units require, and which are provided by the Navy while at sea,” said 1st Lt. Samuel Carter, logistics officer with the MEU. “It’s that kind of connection that we Navy and Marine Corps logisticians develop, in order that we may help others and they, in turn, can help us,” said the 28-year-old, Yarmouth, Maine native.

Logistics operations behind the scenes support the air element of the MEU.

Sea-borne flight operations keep pilots, their crews and landing support teams ready to execute missions day or night.

With the help of PHIBRON-11’s Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON), the air element of the MEU is able to conduct flight operations safely.

“As part of the PHIBRON-11 staff, the TACRON Detachment provides aviation expertise and manning to assist in the planning, coordination and control of air operations,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ian Johnston, TACRON officer in charge for Detachment 4, and Charlotte, N.C. native.

PHIBRON-11’s TACRON detachment coordinates insertion and egress points during flight operations that extend beyond the 5-mile radius controlled by the ship’s air traffic control tower, added Maj. Don White, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 Reinforced (HMM-265 REIN) Detachment A officer in charge.

“They coordinate and deconflict airspace for aircraft to conduct flight operations safely,” said the San Diego native.

Working together, amphibious landings conducted by the battalion landing team keep the GCE of the MEU ready to perform beach incursions from ships to shore.

According to Capt. David Wright, Company E (Co. E) commander, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines (BLT 2/5), 31st MEU, PHIBRON-11’s ships facilitate the transportation of equipment, gear and Marines of the GCE to where it’s needed.

Wright explained, “A task of the USS Denver (LPD 9) is to get the Mechanized Company as close as possible to the shoreline for launching, and after ground operations are completed, to facilitate a safe and timely recovery.” The Goldsboro, N.C. native added, “We are fortunate to be on the USS Denver because the ship’s crew is very supportive of the Marines’ training.”

Each component of the MEU enhances its overall capability, but it’s the command element that serves as the nerve center and fuses planning, coordination, control and execution of an operation, according to Damren.

The MEU CO elaborated, “As a critical element of the Marine Air Ground Task Force, the Command Element's function is to facilitate the success of the MEU's major subordinate elements--the GCE, ACE and LCE.” He went on to say, “Command Element personnel help set the conditions that allow the MAGTF as a whole to perform at a level greater than the sum of its individual parts. Simply put, without a very close working relationship with the PHIBRON, the MEU could not accomplish its mission. It requires a team effort on the part of both organizations to ensure that the overall objectives of an amphibious operation are successfully achieved.”

Through interoperability and constant training with PHIBRON-11, the MEU remains a versatile fighting force capable of responding by land, sea and air.

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