CAMP GONSALVES, Okinawa, Japan --
After passing by the last barrier of concertina wire, American evacuees huddle together as a CH-53E Super Stallion passes over their heads. After the helicopter touches down, the evacuees rush past the Marines and Sailors providing security to board the helicopter and leave the dangerous area.
Marines and Sailors of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit completed a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation exercise at the Jungle Warfare Training Center, here, Jan. 30.
The training event involved evacuating simulated American citizens from a foreign nation. This type of mission can be triggered by hostile forces overthrowing a local government, an embassy being overrun, or a natural disaster.
“If the environment is not conducive for American citizens to remain, we will go in and pull them out,” said 1st Lt. Wesley Jackson, officer in charge of the Evacuation Control Center for the exercise and landing support platoon commander for Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU, and a native of Mountainburg , Arkansas.
Completing this type of mission required each element of the Marine Air Ground Task Force. The Logistics Combat Element (CLB-31) served as interior security for the Evacuation Control Center and controlled the processing of evacuees; the Ground Combat Element (Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines) controlled exterior security; the Aviation Combat Element (Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 Reinforced) provided the rotary aircraft for transportation; and the Command Element provided command and control of the complicated process.
“It is a combined effort from the (BLT), the [reinforced squadron], and the CLB, working together, to rescue American citizens,” said 1st Lt. Lane Florea , the intelligence officer for CLB-31, 31st MEU, and a native of Fort Collins, Colo.
The evacuees, role-played by Marines in civilian clothing, hid in a notional village until a convoy of Humvees from Weapons Company, BLT 2/5, arrived to establish security. The infantry Marines were followed closely by an MV-22 Osprey that unloaded the Marines of CLB-31 to operate the ECC.
By the time the aircraft landed, the security team had set up the ECC and blocked off entrances with concertina wire. The incoming Marines were immediately met by a line of eager evacuees and the NEO team began hastily searching each person and their possessions.
“Part of the process is a hasty search where we look for weapons, drugs, anything that could endanger them or us,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Elias, a military policeman with CLB-31, 31st MEU, and a native of Los Angeles .
More thorough searches at different stages of the ECC ensured that the evacuees were not in possession of anything that posed a danger to them or the aircraft. The Marines also used the process to compile a list of names and information to create a flight manifest and track the evacuees.
After successfully processing 28 evacuees through the ECC, CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from VMM-265 (REIN) transported them to Camp Hansen, which served as a notional safe-haven. As the evacuees departed, the NEO team re-boarded the Osprey while the infantry Marines collected the concertina wire before moving the convoy back to base.
The NEO mission was one of many integral training events that comprise the MEU’s pre-deployment training package designed to test the unit’s ability to conduct rapid planning and mission execution within a limited timeframe.
The 31st MEU is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.