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31st MEU advance party returns home from Iraq

Date Posted: 2005-03-11

A chartered World Airways jumbo jet brought 130 members of Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit home on Sunday.

The main body of the 2,200 members unit will arrive on Okinawa in mid-April aboard three ships in the USS Essex battle group. The Marines have served more than six months in Iraq, including time on the front lines and providing security for the January 30th elections.

The advance party is responsible for getting the bases located on northern Okinawa ready for the troops’ return.

More than 5,000 U.S. service personnel have been sent to Iraq from various bases in Okinawa. The 31st MEU took part in the large-scale attacks in November on the Iraqi city of Fallujah. Okinawa’s Prefectural Government and other municipal authorities have been opposing the Marines’ return. During their deployment, 50 Marines were killed and 221 were wounded.

In Iraq, the 31st MEU used the CH-53D helicopter, the same model as the one that crashed on the campus of Okinawa International University on Aug. 13. That helicopter had taken off from Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan. Unanswered is whether officials will allow the CH-53d helicopters to return to Okinawa. Officials already have said other choppers belonging to the Marines will return to Futenma.

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