31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's History
CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was activated March 1, 1967, as Special Landing Force Alpha, for operations in Vietnam. It made the first of many amphibious deployments from Okinawa to the coast of Vietnam April 10, 1967. Ten days later, it was committed to Operation Beaver Cafe/Union #1. From May to September, Special Landing Force Alpha was entrusted to ground operations 22 days out of each month. It was during this period of intense combat that Special Landing Force Alpha earned the Presidential Unit Citation. The unit participated in supporting operations ashore during the following three years, returning to Okinawa periodically for re-outfitting and the rotation of forces.
6/27/2008 By 31stMEU History Division, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit
Special Landing Force Alpha was officially designated the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit Nov. 24, 1970. Once more, the unit returned to the Gulf of Tonkin. This time, however, the 31st MAU would not be committed to overt land operations, as the Vietnam War was winding down. The 31st MAU performed presence missions and conducted a series of special operations through May 1971. From June 1971 until April 1975, the 31st MAU conducted numerous deployments to the waters off Vietnam. Its last mission there was conducted during Operation Frequent Wind on April 29. This operation was the final evacuation of Saigon as North Vietnamese forces entered the city.
The 31st MAU remained the forward-deployed U.S. presence in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. Combat operations were replaced by regional exercises, which allowed training opportunities in a variety of countries. In 1983, the 31st MAU was recalled from a combined exercise with local forces in Kenya, and positioned in the Mediterranean. Its mission from September to October 1983 was to support U.S. Peacekeeping Forces in Beirut during an intense period of complex political and life-threatening conditions in Lebanon. It was the 31st MAU's last combat operation and the unit was deactivated in May 1985.
The unit was reactivated as the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Sept. 9, 1992.
From 1992 - 1998 the 31st MEU served as a force-in-readiness in the Western Pacific, participating in various joint and combined military exercises as well as successfully completing numerous special operations certifications with Amphibious Squadron 11. In May of 1998 while in transit to Thailand for Exercise Cobra Gold the 31st MEU and Amphibious Squadron 11 were redirected toward Indonesia to prepare for a possible non-combatant evacuation operation of American Citizens from the riot-torn country. After making initial preparations for the operation, tensions eased in the region and the 31st MEU went to Thailand to complete Exercise Cobra Gold.
In November of 1998 The Secretary of Defense ordered the 31st MEU to the Gulf aboard the ships of the Belleau Wood Amphibious Ready Group, in response to Iraq's refusal to cooperate with U.N.-sanctioned weapons inspections. While in the Middle East, the 31st MEU operated in support of U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq during Operation Desert Fox. Additionally, the Marines assisted in the evacuation of 88 Department of State diplomats and family members from the U.S. Embassy, Kuwait, and took up defensive positions near Kuwait in preparation for possible Iraqi retaliation.
The MEU/ARG team also supported Operation Southern Watch, the patrolling of the southern Iraqi no-fly zone, and performed numerous searches of civilian cargo ships outbound from Iraq in support of the U.N.-sanctioned trade embargo established following the Gulf War. The MEU returned from the Gulf in March of 1999.
In October 1999 the MEU once again proved it's expeditionary capabilities by responding to orders to support the Australian-led International Forces in East Timor. The MEU was ready to deploy within 72 hours of receiving the order to head to the Timor Sea. There, while the nation was in mayhem due to East Timor's new independence from Indonesian rule, the MEU supported INTERFET by providing heavy helicopter lift support to INTERFET forces.
The 31st MEU (SOC) continues to participate in deployments with Amphibious Squadron 11 throughout the Western Pacific.
Unit Decorations Include:
Presidential Unit Citation: Vietnam 1967
Navy Unit Commendation: Vietnam 1968
Meritorious Unit Citation: Vietnam 1975; Lebanon 1983, 1998-2000
Marine Corps Expeditionary Streamer
National Defense Streamer: 1965-1975; 1992-1996
Vietnam Service Streamer - 2 Silver Stars, 4 Bronze Stars: 1967-1972
Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Streamer