MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- On July 12, 2006, two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah militants at the Israeli/Lebanon border. The next day, Israel responded by blockading Lebanon’s ports and bombing the airport in Beirut along with several major roads and bridges. On July 14, the Department of State and Department of Defense began plans to evacuate American citizens from the tenuous situation in Beirut, turning to the nation’s closet military assets—the Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group.
During this 2006 operation, the 24th MEU helped evacuate nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon, one of the largest overseas evacuations in recent history.
From June 1-10, 2014, Combat Logistics Battalion 24, the Logistics Combat Element for 24th MEU, conducted training packages that focused on this exact scenario, in addition to several others, that prepared the unit for their upcoming deployment later this year.
“The intent is to focus more upon the MEU missions that are less combat oriented and more on disaster relief and humanitarian aid,” said 1st Lt. Taylor C. Neason, the assistant operations officer with CLB-24. “I want the Marines and Sailors to start to understand that there is going to be a shift in the way we operate in the world, so we are no longer mainly focused on ground combat. We need to start focusing on humanitarian-type missions.”
A non-combatant evacuation operation, commonly known as NEO, is an operation whereby American citizens and other personnel are evacuated to safe havens from foreign countries when their lives are threatened by war, civil unrest, or natural disaster. NEOs are directed by the Department of State and often supported by the Department of Defense, specifically MEUs.
“I didn’t know how complex it was to evacuate people. You would think everyone just runs onto a ship, train, or plane but there is much more planning to it,” said Cpl. Christiania D. McLaughlin, a Modesto, Calif., native and a combat engineer with CLB-24. “This is part of our mission; it’s important to have this training so we know what to expect. We are going to different countries and we need to know how to help other people.”
During the NEO, a contingent of Marines from Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment conducted an embassy reinforcement exercise-providing security and establishing an entry control point for CLB-24 to establish an evacuation control center, or ECC. Both CLB-24 and BLT 3/6 were transported by MV-22B Ospreys from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 (Reinforced).
“Anytime we can get the four elements of the MAGTF to work together in a training opportunity like this, it’s good,” said Lt. Col. Matthew A. Dumenigo, commanding officer of CLB-24 and a North Dighton, Mass., native.
Marines working the ECC provided security and searched the role players. Marines also worked with simulated Embassy staff to process the evacuees and ensure everyone was properly accounted for, said Dumenigo.
“I want them to gain familiarity with the process, as well as deal with some of the friction in fog-of-war type scenarios that may pop up when we are doing this. An evacuation control center or embassy reinforcement can potentially be a dangerous situation, so the Marines need to be able to think on their feet and make the right decisions.”
Role players with the MEU set up various scenarios to test the security element and ECC to prepare the Marines and Sailors for anything.
“As we planned this exercise, we discovered that it was a great opportunity to integrate with the rest of the units of the MEU,” said Neason, a Moraga, Calif., native. “It was really easy to integrate with them because they wanted to play ball, knowing that these will be important missions come deployment time.”
In addition to the NEO training, CLB-24 performed additional tasks during the 10-day exercise to prepare them for deployment, including: counter-improvised explosive device lane training, a mass casualty; evacuations; basic warrior skills training; and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear-defense training.
MEUs train for a variety of missions and are capable of conducting everything from full-scale combat operations to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The 24th MEU began its pre-deployment training package on May 27 and is scheduled to deploy later this year.