News: New Battalion Landing Team arrives for deployment with 31st MEU
Story by Capt. Caleb Eames
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa, Japan - The infantry battalion known as ‘The China Marines’ has arrived here from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to join the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit as the new battalion landing team, with the first flight landing, Dec. 4.
1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, coming in with more than 1,200 Marines and Sailors, now becomes the ground combat element of the 31st MEU, and is scheduled to participate in the upcoming regular patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.
“We are excited to be here because in many ways we are returning home to the Pacific,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Norton, commanding officer, BLT 1/4, 31st MEU. “We consider ourselves to be the oldest battalion in the Marine Corps and most of our unit history has been recorded here in the Pacific. In 1927, we came over here as part of the forces stationed in Shanghai, China, and that is where we got our name ‘China Marines. We also participated in the battle for Okinawa. Still today we keep our unit insignia as the Dragon, which we adopted as a symbol of strength and warrior spirit. That is a big part of who we are. Our Marines have adopted that and are excited to be here.”
1/4 comes to the MEU with an attached artillery unit, Lima Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment out of 29 Palms, Calif. As well, there are Amphibious Assault Vehicle and Light Armored Vehicle attachments, all enhancing the ability of the BLT and the MEU to conduct the wide range of missions assigned.
The complex missions of the MEU require the battalion to do advance training prior to arrival in order to be successful during the deployment.
“We did mountain warfare training, training for amphibious raids, practicing for anything we could get tasked to do while with the 31st MEU,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Sharp, 22, of Alton, Ill., and infantry Marine with BLT 1/4.
“All the workup and training began with small unit leadership to get ready for the deployment with the 31st MEU,” said Norton. “We have been practicing all the missions which we could be assigned, including amphibious operations and raiding with combat rubber reconnaissance craft. At the battalion level we sealed the training with a unit level exercise in October, practicing everything from full spectrum combat operations to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”
The Marines of 1/4 are expected to participate in theater security cooperation exercises with partner nations. The exercises are designed to enhance bilateral teamwork and build interoperability, and 1/4 will be conducting training together with partner nation militaries.
“We are looking forward to this deployment and working with other armed forces,” said Cpl. Michael Older, 24, of Houston, Texas. “We are ready to respond to anything, and we feel good being here in case we are needed. Through all our training, I am making sure my Marines are ready to go.”
In addition to the scheduled exercises, 1/4 is also prepared, with the rest of the MEU, to respond to any humanitarian or contingency crises that may arise.
The battalion’s motto is ‘Whatever it Takes,’ which may be put to good use. The 31st MEU has responded five times in the last three years to humanitarian aid or disaster relief situations, including Operation Tomodachi in Northern Japan.
“Any student of history understands that we could end up doing anything, from offering humanitarian assistance or disaster relief, theater security cooperation or even doing contingency operations,” said Norton. “We train to be prepared to do anything. Although we do not know exactly what will happen, this theater is very important and we are ready.”
While abroad, the Marines of 1/4 realize they will represent their country to many foreign nations and cultures.
“This should be a good adventure, we will get to see other countries and be ambassadors for the U.S. abroad,” said Staff Sgt. David Densley, of Salt Lake City, Utah, a platoon sergeant with BLT 1/4, 31st MEU. “We will also hopefully get to participate in exercise and build those relationships while being the force-in-readiness out here.”
While in this region, they expect to be working in the different terrain of Okinawa and partner nations across the Western Pacific.
“We are looking to train in the jungle environment and working in different settings with our partner nations to improve our skills,” said Densley.
The battalion comes to Okinawa amid increasing focus by U.S. and Marine leadership in the Asia-Pacific region, and although theirs is a regularly scheduled rotation, they are well aware of the global landscape.
“The Pacific region is growing in importance for the U.S. and we are playing our part in that, our focus is right here,” said Densley. “We are ready for whatever is needed, and we can do everything from take the fight to the enemy, if needed, to offering humanitarian assistance. Whatever we need to do, we are ready for it.”
The Marine Corps is the nation’s sea-based expeditionary response force, and the 31st MEU and newly arrived 1/4 Marines represent power projection in the Asia-Pacific.
1/4 is replacing 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, whose Marines are now headed back home to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., after completing a successful fall deployment with the 31st MEU.
The deployment of 1/4 to Okinawa, Japan is part of the Marine Corps’ Unit Deployment Program, which was established by the Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1977 to provide for the deployment of units to the Western Pacific for periods of approximately six months.
The newly arrived battalion of Marines will begin integration training with the 31st MEU almost immediately in preparation for the upcoming deployment.
“Our battalion is ready and motivated to do their job,” said Norton. “We are in tune to the recent developments regarding the renewed focus here in the Pacific, and this feels like this is the place to be.”
The 31st MEU is America’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region and the only continually forward-deployed MEU.
Additional photos and video of BLT 1/4’s arrival in Okinawa can be viewed at www.facebook.com/31stMEU and www.youtube.com/the31stmeu.