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KIN BLUE TRAINING AREA, Okinawa, Japan - Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, escort simulated refugees through an evacuation control center here, July 18. The training exercise heightens the Marines' readiness for non-combatant evacuation operations that may be required as a result natural disaster or violent insurrection. The 31st MEU is the United States' force in readiness for the Asia Pacific.

Photo by Sgt. Paul Robbins Jr.

31st MEU Marines practice non-combatant evacuation

18 Jul 2012 | Sgt. Paul Robbins Jr.

In the event of natural disaster or violent insurrection, thousands of American citizens and innocent refugees need to be evacuated from the area of danger. 

 To prepare for such contingencies, the Marines and Sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, set up and executed a mock evacuation control center here, July 18. 

 Comprised of a series of tents and stations set up near the area of danger, an ECC is designed to screen and process potential evacuees for transportation to a safe zone via military vehicles or aircraft.  

 "Our goal is to evacuate one hundred people per hour," said Maj. Foster C. Ferguson, executive officer of CLB 31, and native of Louisa, Kent. "In order to do that, our teams have to get people processed in a few minutes." 

 Dozens of Marines from CLB 31 participated as American citizens and local refugees for the exercise, allowing the ECC teams to fully simulate their procedures.   

 The process begins with a search by military police, assisted by a small group of female Marines to address gender issues. During this search, the Marines are seeking to prevent drugs, weapons and explosives from being transported on the vehicles or aircraft. 

 "Our number one concern is safety," said Lance Cpl. Troy M. Schneider, a military policeman with CLB 31 and native of Chippewa Falls, Wisc. "That means safety for my team, for every other Marine here and for everyone we are trying to evacuate." 

 During the search process, Marines also identify any casualties. Those with medical issues are provided immediate care by corpsmen. Those without medical issues are then directed to a processing station. 

 At the processing station, evacuees provide information to be entered into the Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation Tracking System for accountability. Once the identifying information is entered, a numbered bracelet is scanned to correspond with the entered information. 

 "Using information from the evacuees, we create a manifest to let the command know how many are being evacuated, and how many casualties and VIP's there are," said Lance Cpl. Zachary M. Paradowski, a data network specialist for CLB 31 and native of Chicago, Ill. 

 After processing and signing a waiver of liability for transport, the evacuees are taken to a holding area. In this area, the evacuees wait for their turn to board a military vehicle or aircraft. 

 A small number of Marines populate this station for security purposes, but also  serve as a sense of control for the evacuees. 

 "If we are evacuating someone, they're most likely frightened or nervous," said Lance Cpl. Austin R. Scott, a landing support specialist with CLB 31 and native of Elkhorn, Neb. "We're here to reassure them and let them know they are almost out (of the danger area)." 

 The training exercise lasted approximately three hours and provided the Marines of the ECC with numerous challenges. The Marines reacted to role players simulating inebriated individuals, an escalation of attempted violence, concealed weapons and a number of other scenarios.  

 "The type of situations we're training for are unpredictable, and you're dealing with a lot of uncertainty," said Ferguson. "That's why we take these opportunities to focus on the fundamentals and build a foundation for future operations."  

 The 31st MEU is the United States’ force in readiness for the Asia Pacific region and the Marine Corps’ only continuously forward deployed MEU.