CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Col. Romin Dasmalchi’s career came full circle Monday as he returned to Okinawa to command the unit where he got his start in the Marine Corps 19 years ago.
Dasmalchi — who first came to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in 1995 as a CH-46 helicopter pilot — vowed to hit the ground running as he assumed command of the U.S. military’s pre-eminent amphibious fighting force in the Asia-Pacific in front of several hundred Marines during a ceremony at Camp Hansen.
The Marines turned to Dasmalchi to guide the unit following the exit of Col. John Merna, who was forced to resign in May following reports that the combat veteran had created a hostile work environment at the unit’s headquarters.
“I’m absolutely excited,” Dasmalchi said following the ceremony. “It’s very humbling to be told that you’re going to take command, let alone one of the few amphibious [Marine Air-Ground Task Forces] out there in the Marine Corps. Not only that, but I got to come back to where it all started in Okinawa, Japan.”
The incoming commander said his assumption of leadership felt more like a homecoming as Okinawa remains just as he and his wife, Jennifer, left it all those years ago: The Okinawan people are still warm and welcoming; the Marines are still of the highest caliber, and the unit’s operational tempo is still incredibly high.
Dasmalchi takes over the 31st MEU at a time when readiness demands are at an all-time high.
The unit has participated in a steady stream of humanitarian operations in the past few years, from Operation Tomodachi following the devastating March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan, to Operation Damayan last year in the Philippines following Super Typhoon Haiyan.
Tensions have also flared recently between China and U.S. allies like Japan and the Philippines over territory and resources.
Dasmalchi vowed that the 31st MEU’s 2,200 Marines and sailors would be ready for any contingency, whether it be combat operations or humanitarian relief.
“Sometimes we’re training to save people, sometimes we’re feeding people or pulling them from burning vehicles,” he said. “It’s important to remember though, the U.S. Marine Corps is the nation’s No. 1 amphibious force in readiness, so we have to be ready to respond to any contingency, combat operations included, and we will be prepared for that.”
Dasmalchi was commissioned in 1992 after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia, according to his Marine Corps biography. He earned his wings two years later.
Since coming to Okinawa and completing multiple deployments with the 31st MEU, Dasmalchi deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq before becoming a pilot of the MV-22B Osprey, an aircraft that has become the focal point of small-scale protests on Okinawa.
After becoming an Osprey pilot, Dasmalchi deployed to Iraq again and was part of the retrograde of the MV-22’s out of theater, his biography states. In 2009, Dasmalchi took command of VMM-266, an Osprey squadron out of Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, and eventually became Aviation Combat Element commander with the 26th MEU. In that role, he again deployed to Afghanistan and participated in operations in Libya.
Dasmalchi comes to the 31st MEU from U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs where he served in the J5 Directorate as a branch chief responsible for the Arctic Working Group, Joint Doctrine and Concepts and Initiatives. He said he can’t wait to get to work strengthening relationships with allies in the region.
“For me personally, I would like to gain some more exposure working with our Japanese partners,” Dasmalchi said. “I would like to get more experience working with our other partners in this area of operations.”