CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, JAPAN —
Rounds, rations and wrenches. Marines see this trio quite often. They’re given a meal ready to eat, issued rounds and their Humvees are sent out daily, but how did all of this make it into the fight? All a Marine needs to do is head to the command post of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and see its logistical hub, the S-4 section.
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ only continuously forward-deployed MEU, and in order to maintain the constant state of readiness required by this premier crisis response force, a competent S-4 shop is necessary. The main areas of responsibility within the S-4 are mobility, maintenance, supply, and ammunition distribution.
Under the realm of mobility lies embarkation, which includes the process of moving equipment, supplies and personnel aboard amphibious ships. This is the responsibility of a team including the embark non-commissioned officer, Sgt. Brandon Doelle.
“Inside of the MEU we work with three domains: air, land and sea,” Doelle says. “If someone needs something on deployment, we get it done and we move anything and everything. The S-4 ensures everything that we will need throughout the float makes it to the ships.”
The 31st MEU regularly patrols the Indo-Pacific region aboard the ships of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, and each ship requires an abundance of cargo in order to support the wide range of military operations, training and humanitarian assistance the 31st MEU is capable of conducting. This movement of cargo requires careful planning, constant communication and a cohesive partnership between the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy.
“We are constantly coordinating with the Combat Cargo Marines aboard the ships to organize and streamline the process,” says Doelle. “We inspect all the cargo, create load plans and work hand-in-hand with Combat Logistics Battalion 31 and the Navy to ensure its efficiency.”
Motor transportation mechanics have a large responsibility within the S-4 section. The maintenance required by the Command Element, Ground Combat Element, Logistics Combat Element and Aviation Combat Element that make up the 31st MEU can become overwhelming. Each element contains their own S-4 and maintenance section, and they rely on logisticians to create standard operating procedures and process maintenance requests.
“We are using logistics to ensure that we are as near to 100 percent ready at all times,” says Maj. Nathan Green, the logistics officer-in-charge for the 31st MEU. “In the modern era, the equipment we have is very complex. Therefore, it requires a lot of maintenance to keep it and us in the fight.”
The readiness needed to support the 31st MEU’s forward-deployed status is preserved by the MEU’s maintenance processes and by working hand-in-hand with the higher command of III Marine Expeditionary Force. The S-4 processes Marine equipment exchanges through III MEF, for each 31st MEU element prior to deployment. Equipment eligible for exchange must meet two criteria: condition – is the equipment operable in its current state? – or time based – will ordered parts arrive in time before the next deployment? This process ensures the 31st MEU is prepared for their upcoming deployments.
“We achieve combat readiness through an all-out effort to use our organic maintenance and supply capabilities to fix everything we can. Whenever we aren’t able to fix something, III MEF will do a one-for-one swap to prepare us for our next deployment,” says Green. “III MEF supports the 31st MEU and keeps us running.”
In garrison and on deployment, training and live ammunition is issued often to Marines for qualifications and training events. However, it doesn’t get there without first being routed through the S-4 shop, where the amount, destination and transportation is organized. Without a logistics section, this would never happen. Under the domain of ammunition, aviation ordnance is also coordinated by the S-4. This logistical prowess was demonstrated during a deployment in the spring of 2019.
During the 31st MEU’s recent deployment, F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft were constantly utilized from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). During this time, the F-35B was able to demonstrate its multi-faceted capabilities at sea. This feat was achieved through the hard work and dedication of the aviation ordnance section of the S-4.
“The 31st MEU was able to demonstrate the capabilities of aviation ordnance during our recent deployment,” says Green. “Our ability to manage logistical processes contributed to this success, which enhances the overall lethality of the MEU.”
The mantra of the 31st MEU is “Ready, Partnered, Lethal,” and each aspect of that phrase would fall apart without a cohesive and prepared S-4 section. Whether it is loading Humvees onto a ship, allocating ammunition for a live-fire range in Thailand, turning wrenches in the maintenance bay or simply ensuring Marines get their chow, the S-4 makes it happen.