USS Essex 31st MEU Conduct NEO 
USS Essex, AT SEA (Oct 2, 2010) - The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) worked in conjunction to conduct a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) exercise Oct. 1 off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

The exercise was designed to demonstrate the Essex Amphibious Ready Group's (ARG) ability to quickly evacuate civilians during a time of crisis.

“Today’s exercise was a superb effort by the Essex Amphibious Ready Group team,” said Capt. Dave Fluker, Essex’s executive officer. “The Amphibious Squadron 11 planners and ultimately 31st MEU Marines and Essex Sailors executed a robust scheme to move scores of evacuees via aircraft and landing craft to a safe haven onboard USS Essex.

The NEO process began on shore, where nearly 100 Marines played the role of civilian evacuees. Other Marines processed evacuees and transported them to either a designated beach or airstrip. After being checked for weapons and contraband, evacuees boarded landing craft utilities, landing craft, air cushions and aircraft, which transported them to the ship. Once aboard, Essex Sailors took over.

“Essex’s Sailors really had to work hand-in-hand for an evolution like this to go well and I think we did that very well,” said Chief Master-at-Arms Stacy L. Holmes, with Essex security. “They conducted thorough searches, processed the evacuees quickly and got the injured exactly where they needed to be.”

Security personnel searched the evacuees and guided them to the hangar bay, where they were entered into a tracking program. Those requiring medical attention were taken to Essex’s medical ward.

“Essex medical department is designed and staffed for the purpose of receiving casualties,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mohammad Kohistany, Essex’s medical administration officer. “Medical elevators rapidly transfer casualties from the flight deck and hangar bay to medical facilities capable of providing intensive medical assistance to as many as 600 casualties. We perform a medical screening, assess all their medical problems and give the necessary care and treatment.”

Throughout the exercise, Sailors from Essex’s operations department stood by to identify the evacuees and assist the U.S. embassy in tracking the progress of the operation. These Sailors also monitored the situation ashore to assist in locating missing Americans or update security information for ground forces.

In addition to the security department, Essex used its ship's self-defense force (SSDF) of more than 200 Sailors to assist in the exercise. Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Michael A. Adams was one of the SSDF Sailors activated for the drill.

“Its great to know that we can help out at a moment’s notice like this,” said Adams. “Essex is usually right there when something is happening in this region, and I would be glad to be a part of something that could help so many people. After watching the drill today, I know we are ready."

After the evacuees were processed, they were assigned to one of the ship’s berthing areas to relax and refresh while awaiting repatriation.

Essex can sustain operations as an afloat staging base for NEO operations for weeks with minimal external support.

“It was great to see the exercise come to fruition, especially given its complexity. It was achieved through the hard work of the Essex ARG Sailors and Marines,” said Fluker. “No matter how hard the challenge, or how obscure the tasking, the Essex ARG professionals are always ready to answer the call.”

NEO exercises are held to practice the ability of the U.S. military to assist the Department of State in evacuating noncombatants, nonessential military personnel, selected host-nation citizens, and third country nationals from a foreign nation to an appropriate refuge in time of emergency.

Previous real-world NEOs in which the U.S. Navy assisted include the evacuation of American citizens from Lebanon due to political unrest in 2006 and evacuation of the Philippines in 1991 after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

Essex, commanded by Capt. Troy Hart, is part of the forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group, and is on patrol in the Western Pacific.

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