PATTAYA, Kingdom of Thailand -- Disaster can strike anywhere and at any moment. In the Asia-Pacific stands a multinational force capable of responding when disaster happens, whether it is a natural event or a civic crisis.
Marines and sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit joined Royal Thai Marines, and soldiers from Japan, Indonesia, and Malaysia to conduct a multinational non-combatant evacuation operation and transportation of Japanese nationals overseas exercise during Cobra Gold 2013, Feb. 17.
“This training enables us to work with our Asian allies so that we can respond to a humanitarian crisis. It helps us overcome the language barrier to properly, safely and efficiently evacuate all the personnel from the area,” said 1st Lt. Maritza Anderson, the evacuation control center officer in charge with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU, and a native of Chicago, Ill.
The training exercise processed more than 170 international evacuees through the ECC, which is a collection of tents used to search, identify, provide medical treatment and process the citizens for transportation out of the disaster area. Every tent has several lanes, where the international service members work side-by-side during each step of the evacuation process.
“(At) every station here, we have the participating countries working to accomplish the same goal,” said Sgt. Thong Chai, a military policeman with Military Police Division, Royal Thai Marine Corps. “Every Cobra Gold, we are able to bring our countries together and build a bond that could prove to be useful in years to come.”
The NEO and TJNO training events help ensure the region is adequately prepared for natural disasters and follow-on humanitarian assistance operations, such as the relief provided after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 and Operation Tomadachi in March 2011.
“I cannot tell you when or where (natural disasters) will happen, but I can tell you that it will happen,” said Brig. Gen. Richard L. Simcock II, the deputy commander for Marine Forces Pacific and a native of San Mateo, Calif. “These are the forces that can respond quickly, and when it happens for real, we are capable of helping,”
The NEO training honed the skills of the multinational force in a number of areas. The process of getting evacuees through an ECC consists of four key stations: receiving, personnel search, registration and embarkation.
Thai and American forces conducted hasty searches for dangerous objects at an initial entry point, and then escorted the evacuees to a receiving area for a short brief to familiarize them with the process. At this initial point in the process, each nationality is designated its own lane to be processed by their nation’s military members.
Next, the evacuees are escorted from the receiving area to the search station. Inside this tent, the evacuees are more thoroughly searched by service members of their nation. Metal detectors and a complete pat down ensure no dangerous or illegal items like weapons, explosives or narcotics make it through the screening process.
Registration follows the search area, where evacuees fill out paperwork necessary to be added to flight manifests and a tracking system. The NEO Tracking System used by the U.S. is to ensure accurate accountability of citizens after evacuation.
Once paperwork is in order, evacuees are escorted to the embarkation area where they await transportation for evacuation. During this NEO, two CH-46E Sea Knight and two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced) provided the airlift transportation. The helicopters flew over 170 evacuees to the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) to provide them a safe-haven during the NEO. In a real situation, the ship can provide evacuees with billeting, sustainment, and follow on medical care, if necessary.
Cobra Gold is the largest multinational exercise in the Asia-Pacific and helps to develop the ability of all participants to effectively respond to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.