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NEO Exercise in Yuma and Brawley

By Lance Cpl. Laura A. Mapes | | October 25, 2007

 Approximately 300 Marines from across the country attend¬ing the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course here, conducted a Noncombatant Evacuation Op¬eration exercise Friday in Yuma and Brawley, Calif.

 The exercise is designed to pro¬vide Marines a realistic training scenario on what to expect when evacuating American citizens from a conflict zone.

 Part of the exercise began at shortly after 5 p.m. at C.W. McGraw Elementary School in Yuma.

 The initial response team con¬voy was the earliest to arrive at the school. Marines from the 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion established security for the land¬ing zone and entry control point, and also provided low altitude air defense so the aircraft could land safely.

 3rd Battalion, 12th Regiment, Lima Battery Marines from Ma¬rine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms Calif., filed out of the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter to set up a 360 degree security perimeter.

 “This training is great because we are getting back into our mili¬tary occupational specialty and getting down and dirty,” noted Lance Cpl. Michael Sweezey, 3rd LAAD Battalion gunner.

 Thirty Marines, who volun¬teered to act as evacuees for the evolution, were searched and air lifted out of the area after being properly processed.

 “Marines need to be searched carefully to ensure safety,” said Cpl. Jessica Salinas, Combat Logistics Battalion 15 radio op¬erator.

 The evacuees were lifted to a forward arming and refueling point where they were transported back to the station.

 In addition to the evacuees there were Marines who volunteered to be insurgents to add the realism of operating in a hostile area.

 “Go home Americans, leave us alone,” shouted the ‘insurgents’ as they tried to breach security and cause riots in the crowd.

 One insurgent carrying a replica rocket propelled grenade launcher pretended to open fire on the Ma¬rines. The Marines retaliated with blank rounds and neutralized the threat. With blanks and pyrotech¬nics used to simulate live fire and explosions, safety measures taken by Marine Aviation Weapons and Training Squadron 1 were very important.

 “We will interject if the role players get out of hand, and we make sure everything is safe,” said 1st Lt. William Oren, MAWTS-1 instructor pilot, explaining how MAWTS-1 supports the exer¬cise.

 A P-19 air rescue fire fight¬ing truck was also posted on the perimeter of the landing zone as another safety measure.

 “The P-19 is the immediate response vehicle,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas Taylor, MAWTS-1 landing zone safety of¬ficer. “In the event that an aircraft goes down out here the crew will be pulled out and any passengers, then the fire will be put out.”

 The P-19 wouldn’t be able to put the fire out alone, so the Yuma Fire Department was on stand by in case of an accident, explained Taylor.

 “Out in town you have all of the distractions Marines would have if they were conducting a real NEO,” said Oren. “Bystanders, spectators and traffic are major factors in how a NEO is executed and you can’t get that if you are operating on a range.”

 “Conducting the exercise in town is much more effective than having it on base or on a range,” said Oren.

 It is harder to depict real life situations when conducting a NEO in a closed training environment, because the authenticity is taken out of the scenario, he said.

 Situations such as the Lebanon embassy evacuations in 1996 are examples of why NEO exercises are important. As the war evolves, Marines must evolve with it and adapt through new types of train¬ing.

 The next NEO evolution will be conducted in December for Desert Talon, another semi-annual NEO

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