Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center twentynine Palms, Calif. --
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment coordinated with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 Oct. 19 to conduct a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation on Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field.
The operation simulated an evacuation of approximately 200 Red Cross aid workers and civilian personnel from an embassy in a foreign country.
“This helps us build the integration between all of the elements of the MAGTF as we prepare to do a NEO anywhere around the world. We make sure we have that integration, and the relationships built that we know exactly what we are planning,” said 1st Lt. Jeremiah Peter, operations officer, Marine Air Control Group, MAWTS-1. “What’s most likely going to happen is that this is going to be a rapid response where we are called upon to execute something like this. This is really preparing our ability to plan and then execute.”
The scenario utilized 18 aircraft, both rotor and fixed wing, and tested the units’ ability to work together to get evacuees away from a hostile environment and safely delivered to a safe haven.
“The most difficult part has been communication and time lines,” said Sgt. Michael Hoff, evacuation control center noncommissioned officer in charge, Combat Logistics Regiment 17. “When you get an actual scenario in country, you will be working with several different units, so it’s good to practice now.”
The three-phase operation started with landing several MV-22 Ospreys into the landing zone on the lawn. Each Osprey dropped off its share of 3/6 Marines, who immediately rushed to set up a secure perimeter around the landing zone. The pilots then took off, creating a whirlwind of dust and grass around the area.
After securing the area, the Marines went on to set up an ECC to process the evacuees and locals. They screened dozens of people for contraband and correct documents to confirm their identities before evacuation.
Afghan role players acted the part of both the local civilians seeking rescue and insurgents attempting to get on the plane or engage the Marines in small arms fire.
The security forces kept sharp eyes on suspicious characters while the evacuees were thoroughly searched and processed by ECC Marines. The evacuees played their part, creating obstacles for the Marines to overcome and becoming rowdy or aggressive.
The 3/6 Marines handled themselves against this test, managing to break through the language barriers and calming the role-players. The Marines assured everyone they were safe and recognized who needed to be evacuated.
Once everything was ready, the call went out for an extraction. The Ospreys once again navigated through the urban terrain, which tested their ability to recognize the landing zone and land in a compressed space, Peter said.
“One of the biggest advantages of doing this up here at Twentynine Palms is this is one of the first opportunities we have had to conduct this simulated NEO in an urban environment,” Peter said. “The pilots have to deal with constrained physical space landing their aircraft in an urban environment, where as a lot of other NEOs we have practiced in the past have been in an open operating area.”
The second-phase cycled Ospreys in and out. People were evacuated and flown to an intermediate support base.
The third and final phase was evacuating the security forces and ECC back to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., thus ending their long evening of successful training.