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24th MEU conducts NEO exercise

26 May 2012 | Sgt. Richard Blumenstein 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Marines, sailors and coalition partners conducted a simulated Noncombatant Evacuation Operation to improve their ability to work together in evacuating citizens to safety at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center, May 26, 2012, as one of the final events of Exercise Eager Lion 12.

Members of the Royal Jordanian Army, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia special forces, Brunei special forces, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Marine Forces Central Command (Forward), and Naval Special Warfare all participated in the event to test the ability of a multinational task force to evacuate noncombatants from a fictional country called Yellowland.

The purpose of a NEO is to evacuate American citizens, and other appropriate personnel, when a country's security situation deteriorates.

The 24th MEU, which counts crisis response among its mission sets, trained extensively for NEOs before deployment.

"We try to get all of the Americans, third country nationals, everybody who qualifies, out of the country when a situation breaks down and it is no longer safe for them to be there," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Obrien, a Marine with Combat Logistics Battalion 24, who supervised the entry control center during the scenario.

MEUs train to perform NEOs independent of any other major unit. This scenario differed because the 24th MEU was subordinate to a Combined Joint Task Force headquarters formed by Marines from MARCENT (Forward) and the MEU received assistance from coalition partners and other U.S. forces.

"What we provide as the NEO command and control element is the interface between the MEU conducting the operation to the larger, operational requirements of dealing with the embassy, the state department, other countries and the combatant command - resources outside of the MEU," said Col. Rick Jackson, the chief of staff for MARCENT (Forward).

The training was also an opportunity for the CJTF to coordinate coalition and special operations forces to conduct operations in support of the NEO training. Members of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia special forces, Brunei special forces, and SEAL Team 3, NSW, recovered trapped personnel and brought them to the ECC.

"Obviously in a situation like this the whole city is falling apart, people are trapped," said Navy Lt. Scott Reynolds, a member of SEAL Team 3. "We worked to grab the people in that hostile environment and bring them back so they can be processed peacefully."

In the training, role-players acted as an angry mob; hooting, hollering and trying to prevent the safe transportation of other role-players acting as American citizens and third country nationals trying to flee to safety.

Along with Obrien, other Marines from the 24th MEU's CLB 24 ran the ECC, the area where personnel are searched, screened and treated medically before egressing to safety.

The Royal Jordanian Army and Marines with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, worked as the security force ensuring the safe transportation of personnel and preventing the protestors from overrunning the ECC.

Having the Jordanians fill a security role during the training gave the Marines the ability to better handle the protestors through communication and cultural awareness.

"We always want to have a people that understand the local culture and can pick up on cues and signals that we may not be culturally sensitive to, or that we may read incorrectly," Jackson said. "Having them on the team is absolutely invaluable in trying to ensure the situation does not escalate."

Exercise Eager Lion 12 took place throughout the month of May and was designed to promote military-to-military relationships among its 19 participating nations and over 11,000 personnel.