CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Exactly one year after the horrific events that transpired on September 11, 2001, Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit trained for a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation near Las Pulgas during the one-week MEU-EX in order to enhance their evacuation procedures of American Citizens and Third Country Nationals from Hostile or uncertain environments.
Part of the MEU?s ground combat element, Marines of E Company, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, arrived at the evacuation site after receiving the distress call to recover approximately 25 American Citizens and TCN?s from a simulated hostile environment at the American Consulate.
To make the training more similar to a real world operation, Marines donned their camouflage paint and complete combat gear during the NEO. Their counterparts, Marines from F Company, BLT 2/1, dressed as civilians to help make the training more realistic as well.
Amphibious Armored Vehicles started their movement to the objective from a Camp Pendleton Beach to simulate an amphibious landing. Traveling through rough terrain, they arrived just on the outskirts of the simulated consulate. On cue, Marines quickly set up a 360-degree defensive perimeter and organized the procedures of the evacuation.
Once the Marines were ready for the evacuees, they began processing them one at a time. A full body and bag search was conducted at the front entrance before either American citizens or TCNs could be allowed in the area. While one Marine searched the evacuee for possible drug paraphernalia or weapons, two different Marines kept a close eye on the person being searched.
As soon as the evacuees were cleared to enter the area, their personal identification was processed into a computer, which kept a record of everyone requiring evacuation. After the Marines completed the identification procedures, the evacuees were under the care of the Marine Corps, according to CWO-2 Alex M. Robinson, Nuclear Biological Chemical officer for the 15th MEU.
Because only one person could enter at a time, the crowd outside started to become restless. Some evacuees tested the defense perimeter and demanded to be let in. Others started to push their way to the front of the line, however, the Marines ignored their demands and maintained control of the situation and let only one person in at a time.
After an evacuee was cleared through the security checkpoints, he or she was positioned in the center of the evacuation site and given a flak jacket and Kevlar helmet for safety. Once everyone passed the checkpoints, they formed a single-file line and walked to an AAV for evacuation.
Although this training is done every cycle during the MEU?s workups, many Marines have never seen or been a part of a NEO either as an exercise or a real-world situation.
"This training is very useful because before, I didn?t know the proper steps to take or what guidelines to follow - now I know," PFC Josh D. Carpenter, E Co., BLT 2/1 said.
Others, however, have done this training before and believe it should be done more regularly. By doing this training more often, Marine leaders can set good Standard Operating Procedures and ensure everyone knows their part, according to Sgt. Dan A. Friedrich, platoon sergeant, F Co., BLT 2/1. Friedrich acted as a role player during the exercise.
"From a civilian?s point of view, this is about as well organized as I have ever seen," the Eugene, Ore., native said. "The Marines are doing a great job for as rowdy as it is out here with this crowd."
Friedrich added that surprise attacks by enemy aggressors in future NEOs would benefit the training a great deal.
This was the first scheduled NEO during the workups for the 15th MEU. Future NEO?s will include a larger number of evacuees and added complications such as people with weapons or drugs, according to Robinson.
Even though this exercise is considerably smaller than a real-world operation, which can number up to 4000 people Robinson said, this NEO helped Marines new to this experience by getting them more familiar with the process.