During times of dissension in foreign countries, civilians and medical personnel from “Doctors Without Borders” could be in danger and may require immediate evacuation. Because of their training during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course held at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, the U.S. Marines are ready for the task.
The WTI course is held every six months, and part of the WTI course is the Noncombatant Evacuation Training Exercise which simulates and provides training for Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEOs). The most recent exercise was held on Friday, October 21, 2011 at Kiwanis Park in Yuma, Arizona.
According to United States Military Joint Publication 3-68, Noncombatant Evacuation Operations:
“Noncombatant evacuation operations (NEOs) are conducted to assist the Department of State (DOS) in evacuating noncombatants, nonessential military personnel, selected host-nation citizens, and third country nationals whose lives are in danger from locations in a host foreign nation to an appropriate safe haven and/or the United States.
NEOs usually involve swift insertions of a force, temporary occupation of an objective, and a planned withdrawal upon completion of the mission.
During NEOs, the US Ambassador is the senior authority for the evacuation and is ultimately responsible for the successful completion of the NEO and the safety of the evacuees. The Ambassador speaks with the authority of the President and serves as direct representative on site.”
In an interview with the Yuma Sun, Major Josh Smith of Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1), who is the lead instructor for the course, explained that the purpose of the exercise is to practice all the tasks Marines would have to do to conduct a short-notice, orderly evacuation, including the transportation, identification and securing of evacuees.
Major Smith said the exercise will simulate the evacuation of civilians and medical personnel from “Doctors Without Borders,” and will be held simultaneously from 4:00 to 9:30 p.m. in Yuma, Arizona and in Twentynine Palms, California. It will be conducted in three phases. Phase 1 will be the insertion of the security forces and the establishment of the evacuation control center. Phase 2 will be the actual evacuation, with waves of helicopters flying in to pick up the evacuees and taking off again. Phase 3 will consist of the extraction of the security forces and evacuation control center.
Major Smith also said that no Marine or aircraft will be carrying live ordnance. The aircraft, which will fly in groups of two, will operate at a minimum of 500 feet above ground level over the city except when they’re landing. There will also be a strict adherence to all Federal Aviation Administration regulations, and both military police and Yuma Police Department will be on site, as well as Military Crash Fire Rescue.
According to Major Smith, the learning objectives for the MAWTS-1 training exercise are as follows:
• Conduct operations in two different cities.
• Conduct operations in a realistic urban environment.
• Offer real world training that may be used in conditions like the ones occurring in Libya and Egypt.
• Phased simulated non-combatant evacuation.
- Security forces inserted.
- “Civilians” evacuated via helicopters.
- Security forces extracted.
The actual exercise consisted of more than 120 marines, and the use of Sikorsky CH-53 and Boeing Vertol CH-46 helicopters landing at the park and dropping off Marine infantrymen to secure the Landing Zone (LZ) and establish the evacuation control center. The helicopters were escorted to the LZ by two Bell UH-1 helicopters, and also patrolling the airspace above the LZ was the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Studies’ (CIRPAS) highly-modified Cessna 337 Skymaster Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) called “Pelican.” This Cessna 337 Skymaster OPV Pelican acted as a Predator UAV surrogate.
MAWTS-1 did an amazing job with this highly detailed and well planned exercise.