PACIFIC OCEAN (March 25, 2011) Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) fill plastic containers with potable water in the hangar bay of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). The water will be transported to various locations in Japan as a part of Operation Tomodachi. Essex, USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) and USS Germantown (LSD 42) with the embarked 31st MEU are currently operating off the coast of Hachinohe in northeastern Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Casey H. Kyhl)

PACIFIC OCEAN - The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit continues relief efforts off the northeast coast of Honshu in support of Operation Tomodachi, March 25.

The MEU has delivered more than 50,000 pounds of supplies via helicopter to affected areas including; Myako, Hamanaki, Yamada and Oshima Island. The unit arrived off the coast March 19, after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the region.

“The Marines and Sailors that are part of the 31st MEU are motivated and dedicated to helping the Japanese. We have spent quite a bit of time training for humanitarian aid situations, and we even practiced that type of mission during our last few exercises,” said Col. Andrew MacMannis, 31st MEU commanding officer. “Now the time has come to do this in a real world scenario, and the Marines and Sailors will exercise the skills they learned to bring help to those in need.”

CH-53E Super Stallion and CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters, with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, have delivered tons of supplies, including more than 1,500 pounds of blankets, 23,000 pounds of potable water and approximately 15,000 pounds of health and comfort packages.

Heavy and medium lift helicopters of the 31st MEU, operating from USS Essex (LHD 2) , are transferring needed materials from primary distribution points at undamaged facilities to secondary, smaller hubs in the disaster area in order to get relief aid closer to those in need.

Once the supplies are delivered by Marine helicopters, Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) members and local citizens join the Marines and Sailors to help unload and then distribute the relief supplies to locals in need.

“The 31st MEU brings a tremendous amount of capabilities to this situation. Our MEU is configured ideally to support humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations. Transportation is one of the biggest capabilities we have,” said MacMannis.

A medical team from Essex flew to JS Hyuga (DDH 181) to meet up with Japanese medical personnel, and then moved ashore to determine potential medical needs and areas where the 31st MEU medical staff could provide assistance.

The MEU also has a Forward Command Element in Sendai, Japan, responsible for coordinating potential relief efforts with the Japanese government.

The 31st MEU continues to work closely with the JSDF to accomplish the mission at the request of the Japanese government. Because of the longstanding and close working relationship between the two nations, the 31st MEU is able to coordinate with the JSDF to rapidly respond with critically needed capabilities and supplies in support of the ongoing relief mission.

The 31st MEU and PHIBRON 11 have responded to four other humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the last two years. The Navy and Marine Corps team is prepared to deliver robust air, ground, and maritime transportation; medical and dental health services; distribution services; and engineering assets as directed. The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU, and remains the nation’s force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.