Marines, sailors successfully complete USS Arlington’s first NEO training mission

Sgt. Austin Long II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune Globe

Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and sailors with the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group aboard the USS Arlington (LPD 24) trained for receiving non-combatant evacuees aboard the USS Arlington (LPD 24) during a mock Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation July 23 in the Atlantic Ocean.

“The NEO mission is the ability for the U.S. government to protect its citizens overseas,” said Capt. Thomas McKavitt, operations and logistics officer with Combat Logistics Battalion 26, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. “Anytime there is a crisis in a nation where host nation security forces cannot protect American facilities or citizens, the country’s ambassador will ask the U.S. military to assist American citizens in departing the area.”

A Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit waves a hand held metal detector over a Marine role-playing as a non-combatant evacuee during a mock Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation. (United States Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Long/ Released)

A Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit waves a hand held metal detector over a Marine role-playing as a non-combatant evacuee during a mock Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation. (United States Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Austin Long/ Released)

The responsibility to assist the evacuation rests with the MEU while forward deployed because it is best prepared with organic air assets, security assets and combat logistic battalion assets, said McKavitt.

This is one of the many scenerio-based exercises completed by Marines and sailors while participating in a Composite Training Unit Exercise in preparation for their deployment to the 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility this fall.

“The COMPTUEX is great, because we are able to test the integration of sailors and Marines coming together in order to accomplish the mission,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Raul Rodriguez, combat cargo officer with the USS Arlington (LPD 24). “This is the first time the ship has done something like this and it was definitely the first time for some of the Marines and sailors that participated to do this type of mission. They did great, but we still have areas we can improve on.”

During a NEO, the objective is to get all non-combatant American citizens accounted for, attain accurate information in a timely manner about the non-combatant evacuees coming aboard and provide them with food, water, a place to sleep and healthcare.

In order to facilitate non-combatant evacuees aboard ship, the Marines and sailors have established a seven-phase process.

Once aboard the ship, the evacuee is given an identification bracelet then proceeds through a short security screening process, a medical process, fills out an evacuation census and is given guidelines for what they can and cannot do on ship. After they have completed the main administrative process, they are given a bed, food and water.

Upon reaching a U.S. military base or U.S.-friendly nation, the non-combatant evacuees begin their final phase of the process; debarkation. The debarkation is the same process as the embarkation only in reverse order, with the final phase being the non-combatant evacuees getting on a helicopter to take them to their next stopping point on their journey home.

“This training seemed realistic,” said Rodriguez. “You could tell the Marines and sailors were getting nervous, but they still did the right things while going through the process. We did a walkthrough with Marines and sailors aboard the ship, but for training we wanted them to experience what it is going to be like with different personnel.”

In order to make the training more realistic, the role-playing non-combatant evacuees dressed in civilian clothes and were not part of the units aboard the USS Arlington (LPD 24), but other units throughout the 26th MEU and Kearsarge ARG.

The 10 Marines and sailors role-playing as evacuees are with the 26th MEU and Kearsarge ARG. While aboard, training was continuous. The role-playing non-combatant evacuees remained in character and were treated as guests, with Marine and sailor escorts, assisting the non-combatant evacuees with navigating the ship, getting them basic comfort items, such as linen, food and water, and so on, and making sure no one was lost or missed their flight home.

“We are a home away from home for them,” said Rodriguez. “The NEO process is administrative and checking people in, ensuring they have what they need, making sure they have no medical issues and giving them food and water, and a bed to sleep on.”

In order for the training to be successful, Marines and sailors had to work together to ensure every requirement and need was met. As service members interacting with American citizens, they are the ambassadors protecting and providing a safe haven.

“My favorite part was feeling like it’s a real-life situation and that I was making a difference to that (non-combatant) evacuee, by being responsible for helping that (non-combatant evacuee),” said Lance Cpl. Edward Simpson, a radio operator with Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. “I enjoyed this training because it was something new. I’ve never done anything to this scale. I’ve done non-lethal courses before, but being able to see it used on a scale like this is new and refreshing. It has showed me that I can do this and I think the realism of it will absolutely prepare me and the others for a mission like this on deployment.”

It is important to have this training for the upcoming deployment because as a Marine Air Ground Task Force, the MEU has to be able to operate across a spectrum of military operations as the most forward deployed unit with the flexibility to provide an array of support for the U.S. president or combatant commander, said McKavitt.

“COMPTUEX is the final period of sea training for the 26th MEU before deploying later this fall,” said McKavitt. “During the exercise, we are being evaluated on our ability to support a full spectrum of missions; such as amphibious raids, humanitarian assistance, non-combatant evacuations, embassy reinforcements and more.”

Overall the training was successful and the Marines showed a mastering of the basics, there were still lessons learned that will improve the process in the future. Lessons such as, speeding up the seven-phase process when taking on non-combatant evacuees and better ways to make the non-combatant evacuees feel more like guest and not detainees, said Rodriguez.

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