OKINAWA, Japan --
At any given time the U.S. State Department may call for the evacuation of U.S. citizens from a foreign country due to a natural disaster or political unrest. For the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit these circumstances are a reality and their mission to serve as a contingency response force for the Asia Pacific Region may assist for the safe evacuation of American citizens and other essential personnel from harm by conducting a Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO).
During a NEO an Evacuation Control Center is established and serves to provide essential services comprised of contraband search, medical screening, administrative processing and transportation of American citizens to a safe location. Sixty-one Marines and Sailors with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, “got down and dirty” with realistic ECC training, August 5-6, on Antenna Hill, Camp Hansen.
“The main purpose of the ECC is to search and clear the evacuees, process, and transport them to a safe destination,” said Sgt. Ryan Sturgell, the CLB 31 Military Police Platoon Sergeant and ECC team chief. “After the Infantry Marines escort the evacuees to the ECC we take over the process to ensure the evacuees get out of the area safely.”
The ECC training distilled confidence in the Marines and Sailors in order to complete future evaluated exercises and potential real world missions.
Lance Cpl. Mathew Pendola, an MP with CLB 31 and ECC search team leader said, “The training was very important because it gave all the Marines and Sailors a chance to see the elements of an ECC and how it operates.”
Pendola added, “From classroom training you can only grasp so much, but being out here and having to set up the tents and actually evacuate people really helps you understand the details and what must be done for an ECC to function properly.”
The ECC training was also executed in a progressive manner, first focusing on the fundamentals and concluding with multiple scenarios to test the Marines and Sailors on their new skills.
“First off, we want to get the Marines comfortable with the basics of what an ECC consists of and how it operates,” said Sturgell, a Mansfield, Ohio native.
While Pendola, a native of Yorkville, Ill., said, “We wanted to get a feel for the situation at hand so everyone would understand their individual job in a real life scenario.
In a crisis, rapid and smooth actions are the name of the game. According to Pendola, “At the end of this training, everyone must be fast and proficient when it comes to rendering aid, searching or just setting up the tents, everything needs to be a second nature.”
Drills were executed to test the service members’ skills and teach them how to deal with adverse scenarios. Some of the scenarios included medical emergencies and weapons or ordnance crises.
“During a medical emergency the main responsibility of a corpsman on site is to sort and triage evacuees,” said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Thomas Santos, a corpsman with Health Service Support Platoon, CLB 31. “We have a corpsman at the entrance of the ECC screening people for illness, and if something is detected, they are escorted to the medical tent for further medical assistance or first aid.”
Another common scenario was a mock explosive detonation in which the corpsmen had to identify the injured personnel and then render proper aid based on the medical condition of the victim.
“It was fast paced, but the best way to work with the situation at hand was to practice like you play,” said Santos, a Houston native. “We trained as if it was real, we did exactly how we would do it during a real NEO, and I feel confident now.”
So whether it’s a natural disaster or political unrest that sparks the danger, the 31st MEU will be able to evacuate American citizens and other essential personnel safely and efficiently when the situation dictates.