31ST MEU Deploys to Philippines for disaster relief

Approximately 900 Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, part of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, are preparing to join the ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts for Operation Damayan, which means “lend a helping hand” in Tagalog.

The Marines traveled to the Philippines aboard USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Ashland (LSD 48).  Colonel John Merna, commanding officer of the 31st MEU says “Our condolences are with the people of the Philippines, who have experienced incredible loss as a result this horrific disaster. The Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU, along with our counterparts of Amphibious Squadron 11, have trained extensively for these types of missions. By working with the Armed Forces of the Philippines during recent exercises, we have built lasting relationships that will better help us to ease the suffering of our Filipino friends.”

The 31st MEU recently completed a regularly scheduled Patrol of the Asia-Pacific region and was in the midst of unit turnover when the order was received to support the HA/DR operation. Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, along with supplies and equipment, have already been sent to the affected region with more expected to follow in the coming days.

It has been reported that more than 6.9 million Filipinos, along with 150,000 homes destroyed, have been affected by this storm across the 41 provinces in the Philippines.  President Barack Obama pledged U.S. support to the Philippines last week, saying that “…one of our core principles is when friends are in trouble, America helps.”

While the scope of the disaster is still being assessed, the duration and extent of the 31st MEU’s operations will depend on the request from the Government of the Philippines and priorities from USAID.  Merna says “The Marine Corps as a whole, and the 31st MEU in particular, has had a long-standing relationship with the people of the Philippines.  It’s an important mission anytime we do something like this, but when it’s a close friend and ally, it makes it that much more serious for us, and we’ll stay as long as we’re asked to.”

In October 2012, the 31st MEU trained in various locations in the Philippines with the AFP during Amphibious Landing Exercise 2012 (PHIBLEX), a bilateral training event designed to enhance interoperability and response during missions such as this. The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 team has responded to four humanitarian assistance disaster relief situations in the last five years alone.  The Marines and Sailors have a robust air, ground, and maritime transportation capability; medical and dental health services; distribution services; and engineering assets ready to provide assistance.

The 31st MEU includes more than 2,200 Marines and Sailors and is comprised of four elements: the Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines; Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced) and CLB-31. The 31st MEU provides a forward-deployed, flexible, sea-based force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations in the Asia-Pacific region.  The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains the Marine Corps’ force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.