Royal Thai, U.S. Marines work together to ‘Evac’ Noncombatants

16 Feb 2009 | Cpl. Jason Spinella

When natural disaster, social turmoil or political instability engulfs a country in turbulence, citizens must be evacuated and accounted for. Likewise, when operating in countries where the language barrier or cultural differences may cause misunderstandings and complicate the process of evacuating citizens numbering in the thousands, it is good to know allies can be counted on to help minimize these friction points.

Royal Thai Marines worked alongside the Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit to conduct Noncombatant Evacuation Operation training, Feb. 15, as a part of Exercise Cobra Gold 2009.

Throughout Cobra Gold ’09, the Marines of the MEU carried out various training raids, Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear defense training and Jungle Warfare Training in order to strengthen the partnership with the Royal Thai Armed Forces. As Cobra Gold neared completion, the training took to the people, in a manner of speaking. On the U.S. side, a Noncombatant Evacuation Operation involves evacuating all U.S. citizens and key foreign nationals from an area in conflict. With the NEO conducted during Cobra Gold ’09, the training took on a bilateral direction, meaning that the Royal Thai Marines took charge of evacuating role-playing citizens of the Royal Kingdom of Thailand.  

“I’ve been on a few NEO’s now, and this is my first time to conduct one bilaterally. I mean its simple, the Thai’s concentrate on evacuating their people, and we focus on the Americans,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas Santos, a hospital corpsman with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU. “It makes the operation run much smoother; there isn’t any confusion for us when it comes to searching, speaking with or processing local nationals from Thailand.”

The mission entailed evacuating approximately 40 role-players to the forward deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) from Hat Yao, Thailand. The operation on the beach, encompassing tasks of searching, registering and accounting for all the evacuees, including providing medical care if needed, was controlled and carried out by the Royal Thai Marines and Marines and sailors with the MEU. Once the evacuees had been processed and safely transported to the ship, the sailors of the Essex would take the reins an assume responsibility for the safety and well-being of the evacuees.

According to Maj. Maria Pallotta, the site director with Special Operations Training Group, the Marines and sailors with the MEU worked exceptionally well with the Royal Thai Marines throughout the operation, and the NEO ran very smoothly.

“The Marines have been out here for about three days of preparation, and I must say this is a well organized NEO,” said Pallotta, a Cleveland native. “The U.S. and Thai Marines are working very close to one another, to learning from each other at every section of the site.”

The Marines and sailors on the ground echoed Pallota, saying the bilateral aspect of the exercise really helped out on both sides of the rope.

“We are only divided by a rope, and that is just so the citizens evacuating from the country don’t get confused on what station to go to, we still work together,” said Lance Cpl. Donald Gronlund, a communication maintenance specialist with CLB 31. “We get to mirror each other and it makes it a lot easier to have them here in case we run into a confusing situation with a Thai national.”

The feeling seemed mutual for the Thai Marines as well.

“We learn a lot of tactics and how to handle chaotic situations from the (U.S.) Marines,” said Cpl. Narongrrt Nat, a Military Police officer with the Royal Thai Marine Corps. “This is my third Cobra Gold, and every year, the Marines communicate well and always carry themselves with professionalism.”

The NEO training was just one of many bilateral events taking place during Cobra Gold ‘09. Cobra Gold ’09 is a bilateral exercise focusing on military interoperability training and strengthening the long-standing partnership between the Royal Thai and U.S. Armed Forces. 

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31st Marine Expeditionary Unit