Photo/IllutrationMembers of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conduct an assault drill in the Philippine Sea. (Provided by the U.S. Marine Corps)

  • Photo/Illustraion

An elite U.S. Marine Corps unit stationed in Okinawa Prefecture to respond swiftly to a military crisis held its first drill on the island in secrecy in 1992, deeming it too "politically sensitive" to reveal.

The decision reflected hopes that the U.S. military's long-term access to bases in Okinawa would be assured.

These details were included in the command chronology and relevant records of the unit, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU).

The documents were disclosed by the U.S. Marine Corps in response to a request by The Asahi Shimbun.

The 31st MEU, based in Okinawa since 1992, is comprised of 2,000 or so Marines and designated as an expeditionary quick reaction force.

It has been deployed widely from East Asia to the Middle East. The U.S. Marine Corps operates seven MEUs globally, but the 31st MEU is the only unit deployed outside the United States.

The Marine Corps records showed that the unit’s first drill on Okinawa was carried out in November 1992 to simulate its response to a possible contingency in Taiwan and elsewhere.

Jerry Humble, a retired two-star general who commanded the 31st MEU at the time, confirmed in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Taiwan was one of the possible contingencies the U.S. military was gearing up for.

“There were things going on in Taiwan ... I'm talking about where we had to rescue or help evacuate people,” he said.

The exercise was conducted under the scenario that the president of “Puganda,” a hypothetical state close to Okinawa, needed assistance from the U.S. ambassador to be rescued following a military coup, but the U.S. Embassy was also surrounded by hostile elements.

The training venues used in the exercise involved mostly northern parts of Okinawa’s main island.

During the drill, members of the 31st MEU came ashore in special craft at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Kin Blue Beach training area in Kin and “rescued” the president, who was being held in a combat training facility.

According to the command chronology, the 31st MEU was deployed following the end of Cold War to respond to possible destabilization in the East Asia and the Middle East.

The unit has undertaken more than 10 kinds of missions to date, ranging from operations to evacuate non-combatants and seizing airfields to disaster relief operations and other humanitarian support activities.

The purpose of the drill in Okinawa was to enable the unit to handle a wide variety of assignments in an increasing fluid post-Cold War world order.

The exercise plan noted that there were sharp differences between Okinawans and the central government over the massive deployment of U.S. forces on the island.

It continued to state that “our goals are to ensure long-term access to Okinawa bases" and that "information concerning this exercise should not be disclosed" because "the details of this exercise is politically sensitive to the Okinawan people."

In 1991, Okinawans were in uproar over the disproportionate presence of U.S. military installations on the island as many service members stationed there were sent to fight in the Gulf War that year.

“So long as there is any U.S military presence in Okinawa, there is potential for political controversy,” according to the training plan.

Humble defended the 31st MEU’s decision to keep particulars of the training secret from the Okinawan people.

“It's not something we want everybody to know about because of possible interference from protesters, which might endanger them and our training. It's for safety reasons.”

Under the current setup, the U.S. military notifies local governments via the Defense Ministry about the dates of planned exercises in their jurisdictions, but not their details.

The 31st MEU would remain in Okinawa as an integral and only ground fighting unit even after the global realignment of U.S. forces under an agreement reached between Japan and the United States in 2012.