900 Okinawa Marines aboard ships headed to Philippines
WHITE BEACH NAVAL FACILITY - Approximately 900 Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, part of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, aboard the USS Germantown and USS Ashland dock landing ships are heading for the Philippines to join U.S. and Philippine forces in support of ongoing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts as part of Operation Damayan, which means "lend a helping hand" in Filipino.
"Our condolences are with the people of the Philippines, who have experienced incredible loss as a result this horrific disaster," said Marine Corps Col. John Merna, the 31st MEU's commanding officer. "The Marines and sailors of the 31st MEU, along with our counterparts of Amphibious Squadron 11, have trained extensively for these types of missions. By working with the (armed forces of the Philippines) during recent exercises, we have built lasting relationships that will better help us to ease the suffering of our Filipino friends."
The 31st MEU recently completed a regularly scheduled patrol of the Asia-Pacific region and was in the midst of unit turnover when the order was received to support Operation Damayan.
Marines from the 3rd MEB, along with supplies and equipment, have already been sent to the affected region with more expected to follow in the coming days.
It has been reported that Typhoon Haiyan has impacted nearly 7 million Filipinos. The storm has destroyed 150,000 homes across the 41 provinces in the Philippines.
President Barack Obama pledged U.S. support to the Philippines on Nov. 14. At that time, he noted, one of the United States' core principles "is when friends are in trouble, America helps."
While the scope of the disaster is still being assessed, the duration and extent of the 31st MEU's operations will depend on requests from the government of the Philippines and the priorities of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"The Marine Corps as a whole, and the 31st MEU in particular, has had a long-standing relationship with the people of the Philippines," Merna said. "It's an important mission anytime we do something like this, but when it's a close friend and ally, it makes it that much more serious for us and we'll stay as long as we're asked to."
In October 2012, the 31st MEU trained in various locations in the Philippines with that country's military during Amphibious Landing Exercise 2012, a bilateral training event designed to enhance interoperability and response during missions such as this.
The 31st MEU and its partner, the U.S. Navy's Amphibious Squadron 2, have responded to four humanitarian assistance disaster relief situations during the last five years. The Marines and sailors have a robust air, ground, and maritime transportation capability, as well as medical and dental health services, distribution services, and engineering assets ready to provide assistance.
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 Tiltrotor Squadron 265; and the Marines' Combat Logistics Battalion-31.
The 31st MEU provides a forward-deployed, flexible, sea-based force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response and limited contingency operations in the Asia-Pacific region. The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU and it remains the Marine Corps' force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific.