OKINAWA, Japan -- The command deck of 3rd Transportation Support Battalion is strewn with trophies. On a plain wooden bookshelf there is a second place trophy for the 2018 Southern Camp Commander’s Bowling Cup. Next to it is another for the same award from 2017. Nearby shelves are adorned with silver and gold chalices for the Camp Foster Jingle Bell Challenge, the Commanding General’s Flag Football Cup, and various soccer and dodgeball tournaments. But above them all, mounted to the wall, is the 2019 National Defense Transportation Association (NDTA) Military Unit of the Year award. This is the third time 3rd TSB has won this award, having previously earned the title in 1974 and 2003.
“We stay very busy out here,” explained Major Mitch Allen Bruce, the executive officer of 3rd Transportation Support Battalion.
The nomination for the award reinforces Bruce’s assessment. During the period for which they received the award, 3rd TSB operated in numerous international exercises, including “FREEDOM BANNER 18, and BALIKATAN 19, providing line haul support, distribution of equipment, supplies and personnel in austere locations, and expertly managed the rapid response of a maritime preposition force in a foreign country,” reads the nomination.
Bruce pointed out that their accomplishments don’t stop there.
“That was in addition to all of the garrison support operations that we have here,” he said. “For most of the port operations that go on here, we’re the ones offloading the ships, providing the landing support Marines that ensure that everything is offloaded correctly and that we have accountability of it. We provide motor transport for [3rd Marine Logistics Group], meaning the rifle ranges and things like that, meaning our trucks are constantly on the go. We’re doing air delivery operations. We have the sole air delivery that can actually provide a large capability to the rest of [III Marine Expeditionary Force] out here, so that’s a niche for us. Now it’s us and 9th [Engineer Support Battalion] that have the materiel handling equipment -- forklifts, TRAMS, those kinds of things, so that keeps us moving and going out here.”
Bruce also emphasized that there is more to the success of 3rd TSB than meets the eye.
“While they are out there doing things for other people, there is a lot of support that it takes internally to run these things,” he said. “Our [communications] section makes sure our guys can communicate, the S3 section coordinates all of the tasking that comes down from higher and the support logistics section makes sure we do all of those things. The S1 makes sure we get paid right... We have all sorts of little things and every day it’s a full on battalion effort.”
Bruce admitted that their accomplishments do not come without challenges, though. The climate and the remoteness of Okinawa include challenges of their own, he said, but Bruce believes the unit’s greatest challenge is the balance of manpower and competing demands.
“To do more with less is kind of the Marine Corps motto and it’s what we do,” he said. “It’s one of the challenges, but at the same time I also think it breeds ingenuity and some resilience in our Marines. We get better at operating in those conditions, so when we go to places where the infrastructure isn’t there, we are better able to adapt.”
At the end of the day, Bruce acknowledged, it is the Marines and Sailors themselves that made 3rd TSB the unit of the year.
“Our trucks are the same as anybody else’s, it’s the same equipment, same parts system, same supply system, same money we use, all that type of stuff,” Bruce said. “The difference is the Marines and Sailors who are out there doing the missions, supporting those missions day in and day out.”
To the Marines, though, it’s just another day at work.
“I feel like we were just doing our jobs,” said Lance Cpl. Asgar Khan, a motor transport mechanic with Support Company, 3rd TSB. “I never would have thought that we were doing such a great job. We were just kind of in the groove of things, but to see the progress that we made throughout the year reminds me to just keep your head down and keep working, not to worry about what other people think. Just keep doing your work because as long as you’re doing it honestly, you might get rewarded or get recognized, because here we are.”
Bruce maintained the same attitude.
“We’re not slowing down at all,” Bruce said. “We’re hoping to continue this in the future, we’re putting in for the Marine Corps unit of the year award again, and hopefully when [the NDTA Military Unit of the Year award] comes up, we’ll put in for this one again and hopefully we’ll be recognized.”