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WHITE BEACH, Okinawa — The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit returned here Tuesday from a monthlong deployment to South Korea.

The Marines and sailors were part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, made up of the USS Essex, USS Tortuga and USS Juneau, forward-deployed to Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

Training in South Korea began March 6, when air and ground elements of the 31st MEU arrived for routine pre-deployment training. After that they participated in Foal Eagle 2007, an annual bilateral joint training exercise with South Korean armed forces.

“This exercise was enormously beneficial to the 31st MEU,” said Col. John Mayer, the commanding officer, according to a Marine press release. “We conducted an amphibious offload in a foreign country where we moved 200 miles inland and set up camp, sustaining ourselves while conducting the most premier combined arms training in the Pacific region as a Marine Air Ground Task Force.”

The Marines and sailors also conducted a combined amphibious landing with their South Korean counterparts on the west coast of the Korean peninsula, which “helped build a stronger relationship with them,” Mayer said.

Besides the training exercises, servicemembers with the 31st MEU also took part in five community relations projects that involved visits to children’s homes, hospitals and orphanages and took liberty in the port cities of Busan and Chinhae, a city famous for its spring cherry blossom festival.

“I am glad that our Marines and sailors had this opportunity to see and experience the very best that Korea has to offer,” Mayer said. “I know that these experiences have left lasting impressions, and I sincerely hope the feeling is mutual for the Korean people in terms of the impact we made here with our projects and friendship activities.”

While they were deployed, some 1,200 personnel temporarily attached to the 31st MEU from stateside units were informed that their seven-month training tour would be extended for another five months. The Marines were expected to return to their stateside home bases in August, but will now stay with the Okinawa-based unit until January.

The extension is designed to allow other Marine units time to train for deployments to Iraq. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway has said he wants to change the deployment schedule from a seven-month rotation to allow Marines 14 months off between deployments.

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