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thedrifter
03-12-06, 07:29 PM
31st MEU returns to Okinawa
Two-month deployment included training, Philippines disaster relief

Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Monday, March 13, 2006

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — After a nearly two-month deployment that included urban training on Guam and disaster assistance at a remote village in the Philippines, members of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit returned Saturday to Okinawa.

The Marines and sailors departed the island Jan. 20 aboard the three ships of the Sasebo Forward Deployed Amphibious Ready Group (ARG): the USS Essex, USS Fort McHenry and the USS Juneau, according to a Marine news release.

The unit first traveled to Guam for urban combat training, then headed to Subic Bay in the Republic of the Philippines for the annual Balikatan exercise. But as the ARG was preparing to dock at the former U.S. naval base, a massive landslide buried the village of Guinsaugon in Southern Leyte on Feb. 17.

The 31st MEU and the ARG responded, along with the USS Curtis Wilbur out of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, to the Philippine government’s request for relief aid and help to dig out victims and treat survivors.

“The Navy-Marine Corps team proved itself once again as a rapid response force that can come in and help those in need,” Col. Walter L. Miller, 31st MEU commanding officer, said in a news release.

While most of the unit helped out at the landslide region, USS Juneau sailors and Marines took part in several medical civic actions on the island of Jolo as part of the Balikatan exercise. They teamed up with the Philippine military and were assisted by medical and aviation crews with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262.

Miller said the bilateral effort provided medical assistance to more than 10,000 Filipinos on Jolo. Marine engineers and Navy Seabees also worked with Philippine troops to build school classrooms on the island.

When Balikatan concluded, the 31st MEU and the ARG made their way to Iwo Jima, Japan, the site of the bloodiest battle for U.S. Marines during World War II. There, the units provided support to combat veterans and family members who were visiting the “hallowed grounds” for the 61st anniversary commemoration of the battle, Miller said.

The MEU will conduct a brief period of routine training before returning to the ARG for follow-on deployment in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the release.

Ellie