‘Dragons’ Conduct Non-Combatant Site Survey
DAEGU GARRISON — Travel anywhere in South Korea and you see a country with bustling markets, neon signs that light the urban landscape, and fertile rice fields, but underneath all that conspicuous prosperity is a country that sits on razor’s edge. Let’s not forget that only a day’s drive from the southern tip of South Korea lays the most heavily fortified border in world. Due north of that expanse of chain link fences, mine fields and barbed wire is North Korea, the world’s fourth largest military power and a nation that a few months ago threatened to plunge the whole peninsula into conflict.
This sobering reality brings to mind an obvious question. If war or natural disaster happened on the peninsula, what would happen to the thousands of Department of Defense family members, contractors and other non-combatants? This is where Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) comes into play. From sounding the alert to the minute noncombatants leave the peninsula’s shores, NEO gets US Citizens safely assembled, processed and on the next plane or boat home.
It was with this in mind that Soldiers of the 501st Special Troops Battalion (STB) began their site surveys in South Korea’s second largest city, Busan. While this may sound like a dry task at best, NEO is a critical component of this year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise.
“Our purpose here is conduct recon and determine site capabilities and shortfalls,” said Capt. Jared Nielsen, 501st Sustainment Brigade Assistant S-3, and native of Saint Paul, Neb. “Busan’s size and infrastructure provides us with a lot of opportunities and challenges.”
While Busan has many large venues capable of holding thousands of people, it would be a mammoth task to feed, shelter and defend the large influx of evacuees. To meet these challenges, 501st STB Soldiers spent long hours walking the sites, meeting with site managers and discussing possible NEO scenarios with their Republic of Korea (ROK) Army counterparts.
“Some of these places were a lot bigger than expected,” Nielsen said. “Input from the ROK Army Units in the area helps us coordinate our efforts to help make our NEO mission a success.”
After a particular site was surveyed, Soldiers collected and analyzed the data in order to determine whether or not the site would be a suitable place for evacuees to be housed or processed. Knowing the pros and cons of a NEO location help streamline the evacuation process in event of an actual emergency.
“This helps us better prepare for the unthinkable, said Sgt. Stephen Turner, the 501st STB NEO representative. “Past experiences, such as Japan, make NEO a critical component of peninsula security.”