31st MEU trains for HA Operations
31st MEU
Story by Cpl. Will Lathrop

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan (Sept. 14, 2005) -- Marines with Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 31, the combat service support element of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, along with members of Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, the MEU’s ground combat element, practiced their ability to conduct humanitarian assistance operations Sept. 14.

Humanitarian assistance missions can include performing disaster relief operations, providing medical and dental services or rebuilding public structures on both foreign and domestic soil.

Arriving at the site for the rehearsal, the MEU’s motor pool, the service members began to set up their aid stations under the waking sun.

“It’s our objective to win the hearts and minds of the native populace, and not just by going through the motions,” said 2nd Lt. J.R. Apkarian, the site commander with MSSG-31.

Infantry Marines with the BLT posted security around the compound, while military police with
MSSG-31 escorted the medical and support personnel into the garage to be used as the base of operations.

Marines acting as villagers for the scenario cried for medical assistance as the aid force rolled. Some of the role players became upset and aggressive when they were told they would have to wait their turn for attention.

Aside from the medical assistance, there was a dental station headed up by Navy Lt. Toni Bowden, a dentist with the MSSG.

“We used this training as an opportunity to practice dentistry outside of a conventional medical facility,” Bowden explained. “If we can take care of people’s dental concern’s now, they will be able to focus solely on the mission later.”

An instigator in the crowd of role players refused to believe that modern medicine was the cure for his people, stating that he would provide the cure. He convinced enough of the other villagers of his abilities that he incited a riot against the service members in an attempt to disrupt their humanitarian efforts.

To counter this threat, artillery Marines with India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment attached to the BLT, outfitted in crowd-control protective gear, formed a wall of plastic shields to passively force the angry mob out of the area, effectively securing the interior of the site.

“With as many new people to the MSSG that we have, it went pretty smoothly,” said Sgt. Chris Smith, the MSSG-31 intelligence chief. “This type of training is great, especially if we deploy to countries with fewer medical and dental assets than our own.”

The humanitarian assistance operation is another mission the MEU conducted during its MEU Exercise. The exercise prepares the MEU to become special operations capable, to respond to any contingency in the Asia-Pacific region and in the Global War on Terrorism.