CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa – The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit completed interoperability exercise here from June 23 to July 13, 2020, incorporating detachments which recently arrived to the MEU. The associated training was designed to enhance coordination and familiarize subordinate elements with the unique mission set of the 31st MEU, in preparation for follow on exercises which will incorporate the entire Marine Air Ground Task Force.
Training kicked off with a Communication Exercise at Jungle Warfare Training Center that integrated personnel and equipment from Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, with the communications section of the Command Element, testing the 31st MEU’s ability to sustain high frequency communications across long distances from an austere environment.
“COMMEX is our only training event that focuses exclusively on communications. It provides an opportunity for radio operators, systems administrators, network administrators, and technicians to employ their equipment without the pressure of supporting larger unit-level training objectives,” said Maj. Ryan Hamilton, communications officer for the 31st MEU; “Marines can make mistakes, familiarize themselves with their equipment, and learn what it means to operate in a remote location with no sources of outside support. This training is key in the development of our Marines’ technical skills and prepares them for follow-on exercises and operations.”
BLT 2/4, recently arriving from Camp Pendleton, California, worked in close coordination with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 (Reinforced), headquartered on Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, to conduct fast rope training and on-off drills with MV-22B Ospreys.
“This was our first opportunity to coordinate with the aviation combat element and get Marines off the deck in Camp Butler. For many Marines, it was their first live-slide out of an MV-22. The Marines demonstrated proficiency during their live slides and proved they’re more than capable of executing this insert technique in a real world mission,” said Capt. Kenny Herman, Echo Company executive officer, BLT 2/4.
Fast rope training is critical to the BLT because many of the missions the 31st MEU conducts could require insertion and extraction of ground troops by aviation assets in locations where it is not safe to land.
Combat Logistics Battalion 31’s Helicopter Support Team also trained with VMM-262 (Rein.) over the past few weeks, practicing their ability to attach loads to helicopters in-flight. “Working with VMM-262 helps us increase our speed and proficiency at executing external lifts. We’re able to practice so that if we need to, we can get large pieces of equipment to locations that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach,” said Staff Sgt. Mitchell Buelow, CLB-31’s landing support chief. HSTs are especially important during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.
Other events included multiple live fire ranges, reconnaissance and surveillance missions, and tactical air control training with the intent of honing coordination and specific skills prior to the immediately following MEU Exercise. While the training conducted over the past two weeks allowed the subordinate elements of the 31st MEU to accomplish initial objectives, MEUEX will test the ability of the entire MAGTF to operate as a team as a crisis response force.
“By working together during Interop, we developed a solid foundation to build on for MEUEX and any missions we will execute together in the future,” said Maj. Brett De Maria, the 31st MEU assistant operations officer; “we are remaining flexible, constantly shifting our plans in order to get the maximum training possible while keeping our Marines safe from COVID-19.”
Across the MEU, strict measures have been enforced to prevent the spread of the virus: the wearing of masks, physical distancing, and the continuation of only mission essential training, in accordance with III Marine Expeditionary Force health protection guidance. “The 31st MEU cannot stop training during this time. It’s our job to respond to crisis at a moments notice, and our nation and partner nations throughout the region are counting on us to be prepared in case the worst happens,” said De Maria.
The 31st MEU, the Marine Corps’ only continuously forward-deployed MEU, provides a flexible and lethal force ready to perform a wide range of military operations as the premier crisis response force in the Indo-Pacific region. The 31st MEU has implemented strict health protection measures and will continue to conduct mission essential training in support of regional security and stability.