Guam – The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and Amphibious Squadron 11, with a combined total of more than 4,000 Marines and Sailors, transited to the east coast of mainland Japan Sunda, March 20.
The USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Germantown (LSD 42) with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived off the coast near Hachinohe city, preparing to assist humanitarian aid efforts along the affected northeastern coast.
“The MEU was moved to the east coast to be better positioned to help those in need,” said Col. Andrew MacMannis, commanding officer, 31st MEU. “Our hope is to be able to help our Japanese friends by delivering assistance to people in remote areas along the area where the tsunami hit hardest.”
Helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, flew from the USS Essex (LHD 2) as it drew near the eastern coastline over the weekend.
The helicopter crews delivered humanitarian aid supplies, including blankets and fresh water, to Miyako city today. The Marine pilots also conducted aerial surveys of 200 miles of affected coastline and identified isolated communities in the area that may be in need of further assistance.
The 31st MEU also surveyed areas around the northeast towns of Ofunato, Kamaishi and Miyako today, in order to assess disaster relief needed in those areas.
The MEU is operating far away from any source of radiation, but still is taking precautionary measures to protect the service members from any possible low-level contamination. Pilots, crew and the aircraft go through a thorough check upon return from every mission.
“We practice to operate in contaminated environments as part of our regular annual training,” said MacMannis. “So we are well prepared and ready to provide assistance under any conditions.”
The six-man forward command element of the 31st MEU is now in Sendai, Japan, in order to coordinate disaster aid planning with officials already on scene. Two members of the MEU remain in Yokota coordinating efforts to provide relief, and one individual is in Sappora to liaison with Japanese officials.
The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 have responded to four other humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations in the last two years. The Navy and Marine Corps team is prepared to deliver robust air, ground, and maritime transportation; medical and dental health services; distribution services; and engineering assets as directed.
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 Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) and CLB-31.
The 31st MEU provides a forward-deployed, flexible, sea-based force capable of supporting the ongoing Japanese humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations as directed.