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31ST MEU returns to Okinawa after Operation Tomodachi

Date Posted: 2011-04-14

Some 2,200 Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary unit have returned home to Okinawa, Japan after nearly three weeks of conducting relief operations with the Japan Maritime and Ground Self-Defense Forces in support of Operation Tomodachi in mainland Japan.

USS Essex (LHD 2), with the majority of Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU aboard, arrived at Naval Facility White Beach, Okinawa earlier this week, while two wo other ships with elements of the 31st MEU aboard, USS Germantown (LSD 42) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), brought the earthquake and tsunami relief crews home last week.

"The Marines have helped their friends in time of need, and stand ready to support further if called upon," said Col. Andrew MacMannis, commanding officer, 31st MEU. "We are proud to call Okinawa our home, and to help those in Japan was an honor and privilege. We are all proud to have been a part of the relief efforts."

The 31st MEU was split into three separate parts on March 11. 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 the other two ships.

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

The Essex Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st MEU first arrived off the coast of Akita, Japan, March 17 and began flying coastal surveillance flights. Then, on March 22, the ARG repositioned off the east coast of Japan, near Hachinohe, and the 31st MEU immediately began delivering relief supplies ashore via helicopters of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced). Supplies delivered included water, blankets, and other health and comfort items. HMM-262 (Rein) conducted a total of 15 survey missions and 204 supply delivery missions with nearly 300 hours of flight time.

In late March, the MEU and Essex ARG’s priority became support to the isolated island of Oshima. The units began by transporting relief supplies, which included moving commercial electric utility vehicles, a fuel truck, a water re-supply vehicle and civilian workers from the Tohoku Power Company by U.S. Navy landing craft to restore partial power to the cut-off island.

During the Oshima operation, two pallets of clothes, blankets, food and toys donated by Marines and Sailors were 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 more than 160,000 pounds of relief supplies to those affected by the disaster.

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