CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan --
Marines of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, and Battery L., Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted a mock noncombatant evacuation operation here, March 11.
Flying in on CH-46E Sea Knights helicopters of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st MEU, from the USS Essex (LHD 2) at sea, the Marines quickly set up an evacuation control center to begin processing evacuees.
Starting from the initial entry point, the evacuees enter and are greeted by Marines that inform them of who the Marines are and what they are doing for them.
The evacuees are then separated into different groups; U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, U.S. military, dependents, and embassy staff.
Once the Marines at the entry point ensure the evacuees have proper identification, they get into the lines and begin to go through security to ensure they have nothing harmful or illegal on them.
“One of the things you have to be wary of is you never separate families going through the search process,” said Lance Cpl. Colin J. Hoffman, a military policeman with CLB 31, 31st MEU, and native of Middleton, Mass. “Separating families can cause a lot of unneeded stress and tension in an already stressful situation. You wouldn’t want to have your kid or mother or father taken away from you, you would get scared and worried, so to ensure that doesn’t happen they have to stay together.”
Once evacuees are done with the searching process, they are then brought to the processing station, where they give their names and any information that must be entered into the system.
As the Marines of CLB-31 processed the evacuees, the Marines of Battery L, BLT 1/4, 31st MEU ensured the area was secure by patrolling the perimeter and ensuring no unauthorized personnel entered the area.
Working as a team to accomplish the mission, the Marines were able to set up their ECC, then process and evacuate more than 25 personnel in just over an hour.
“We do it often because it’s one of our main missions” said Sgt. Krista U. Jones, the 31st MEU postal chief, and native of Fayetteville, N.C. “When we deploy with the MEU, we deploy so we can respond if there is a humanitarian aid or disaster relief mission or NEO that occurs.”
Although the Marines practice NEO’s multiple times a year to ensure proficiency, there were still challenges encountered and new things learned.
After the evacuating all those in need of transportation, the Marines began to pack up their ECC, were told how they had performed, and discussed areas that could be improved upon.
“We had more scenarios then last time, last time it was cut and dry, just evacuate the American personnel,” said Jones. “This time we had an Ambassador which put a real-world spin on it, and made the Marines think a little differently. All the personnel got through fast and safely.”
The 31st MEU is currently conducting its Certification Exercise, which certifies that it is fully prepared and capable to respond to any scenario that may arise during the deployment to the Asia-Pacific region.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.