USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea --
Marines are trained to fight in any clime and place and trained to eliminate the enemy against all physical odds. Yet this war-fighting mindset is balanced with the ability to provide aid and rescue to those abroad in the wake of danger, giving testament to the “one hand gives life, one hand takes life” duality.
It was in the latter role the Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit trained alongside their Navy counterparts of the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) when conducting a noncombatant evacuation operation on ship, Sept. 14.
The training evolution was a continuation of the 31st MEU’s Fall Patrol deployment, a refreshment of Marine Air Ground Task Force capabilities before conducting bilateral training throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
From the shores of Tinian of the Northern Mariana Islands, Marines led notional evacuees onto CH-46E Sea Knight Helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) for transportation back to the ship. Once aboard the BHR, however, the real work began.
“When conducting NEOs, our expectation is to evacuate 45 people in half an hour and prep them for processing once they’re at our station,” said Cpl. William Pi, landing support specialist with Landing Support platoon, Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU and a native of West Palm Beach, Fla. “Today there’s less than a dozen people, but the processing station for this scenario is held on ship, when it’s usually done on the ground.”
Once evacuated from the hostile area, the evacuees reach the processing station in the hangar bay of the BHR. Following this, the evacuees are led through a variety of stations to ensure all necessary information is collected and each evacuee is accounted for.
The evacuees are then shown to possibly the most important part of the processing line: the medical aid station.
“For this specific situation we’re thinking of screening, not necessarily triaging, so we need to find those that need immediate treatment once on ship,” said Navy LT Ankush Jain, command surgeon for the 31st MEU. “From the medical section of the processing station, we find those who are sick, pregnant, on medication or have any illnesses and treat them as needed. We ensure we get the best available treatment to the evacuees as we can.”
After deeming what category each evacuee belongs to, they are shown to their berthing on ship, marking the end of the NEO exercise. However, with the processing station being held on ship as opposed to the conventional on-shore setup, the Navy/Marine team had to work together to accommodate the evacuees.
“There are a few rules and procedures that change, but nothing is drastically altered or made more difficult,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Travis Briggs, master-at-arms for the security department of the BHR. “It’s not a strict Marine NEO; the Navy integrates with them to execute a smooth, quick operation as a team, whether on or off ship.”
With the notional NEO training completed, the 31st MEU will continue their Fall Patrol deployment throughout the Northern Mariana Islands.
The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.