USS BONHOMME RICHARD -- The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is participating in certification exercises aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, at sea, March 16-24.
CERTEX is designed to evaluate the 31st MEU on several missions the unit may be tasked to execute as the Marine Corps’ crisis response force for the Asia-Pacific region.
“(The 31st MEU) is the forward-deployed Marine Air Ground Task Force,” said Col. Romin Dasmalchi, commanding officer of the 31st MEU. “We are one the very few units deployed on the sea right now which means we are the most responsive and the most ready.”
The Marine Corps has seven MEU’s altogether. The 11th, 13th and 15th MEU’s are stationed in Camp Pendleton, California. Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, hosts the other three: the 22nd, 24th and 26th. The 31st MEU is unique because it is the only permanently stationed MEU in the Asia-Pacific region. This presents several challenges and opportunities.
“The 31st MEU completes in a very short, accelerated period of time the same amount of things that the other MEU’s (do) in terms of forming,” said Col. John Armellino, chief of staff for the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and senior evaluator for CERTEX. “The 31st MEU forms and develops a team in about 45 days or less, whereas the east and west coast MEU’s have the luxury of about 180 days.”
During each spring and fall patrol, the 31st MEU conducts the certification exercise to test their capabilities and proficiency in their mission essential tasks.
“CERTEX is probably one of the most intense periods outside of real-world operations that a MEU can take part in,” said Dasmalchi. “We are going to execute a vertical assault and small boat raid, as well as a humanitarian assistance exercise with mass casualty evacuations and ship-to-shore maneuvering.”
Before CERTEX, the unit prepares with several weeks of pre-deployment training ashore. This includes synchronizing air, ground and logistics combat elements in all phases of training on Okinawa. Ground troops will rehearse with new aviation assets and the logistics element will provide transportation, maintenances, supplies and other resources for the attachments to the MEU. Once embarked upon amphibious ships, the Marines test their ship-to-shore capabilities alongside the Navy, which adds another dimension of complexity.
Throughout each phase, Dasmalchi stressed to his commanders the importance of getting things right.
“The best way you can counter the threat and to keep from hurting yourself is to plan,” said Dasmalchi. “If you plan things out and make a methodical approach like you have been taught, everything will fall into place.”
During CERTEX, Marine evaluators will observe and grade the Marine Air Ground Task Force on the full range of military operations.
“Not only is there (a) checklist aspect of (evaluation), but there is also that human aspect of it and it gets down to individual Marines,” said Col. Sean D. Wester, officer in charge for Expeditionary Operations Training Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “We are looking at their actions on the objective, if they are alert, if the Marines are doing their jobs (and) if they are being led properly. Some of those things aren’t neatly lined up on a checklist and we do our best to source evaluators who have experience that will ensure a positive overall evaluation.”
Following the intense eight-day evolution, the Marines of the 31st MEU will continue their regularly scheduled spring patrol of the Asia-Pacific region.
“The MEU is one of the most flexible forces in the Marine Corps,” said Dasmalchi. “We have to be prepared for anything.”