Noncombatants Evacuated to Japan for NEO Exercise

by Staff Sgt. Joseph Moore, Eighth Army Public Affairs
Stripes Korea

Noncombatants from across the peninsula participated in a noncombatant evacuation operation, or NEO, during exercise Courageous Channel from Oct 31 to Nov. 4.

The main exercise consisted of noncombatant civilians visiting their area assembly points to verify NEO packets and make sure they have everything they need to properly be evacuated from South Korea in the event of a crisis situation or natural disaster.

"We conduct NEO exercises to help facilitate readiness across the peninsula," said Capt. Zachary Welch, the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade operations planner and officer in charge of Assembly Point 5 in U.S. Army Garrison, Yongsan. "Also, noncombatants can better prepare themselves in the event for a real world crisis or environmental disaster."

However, this year the NEO exercise was elevated to another level.

Sixty civilians representing installations and commands throughout the peninsula volunteered to go through the entire evacuation process from start to finish. In addition to a free trip to Japan, the volunteers helped validate the ability to conduct evacuee operations in emergency situations.

The noncombatants started their evacuation exercise at their area's assembly points before moving by bus to Camp Humphreys to join the other travelers.

From Camp Humphreys, the men, women and children flew in UH-47 Chinook Helicopters to Camp Walker where they stayed the night before flying in a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft to a safe haven in Japan the next day.

Throughout the process the civilians were screened, weighed and scanned to ensure proper accountability and, most importantly, test the capabilities and systems of the entire operation.

"This was extremely important to do," said Maj. Brooks Hartnett, a planning officer assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division who escorted the evacuees throughout the operation. "It provides a lot of value for our family members in understanding the process … and it exercises our systems to make sure we're able to do this whenever the need arises to move family members from harm's way."

Family members volunteering in the exercise said they realized the importance of going through the full NEO exercise.

"The military can plan as much as they can but until you actually start moving people you don't know what it's like," said Wendy Kibbe a U.S. Air Force spouse, who was accompanied by here two 6-year-old twins. "It's important to use actual families in these exercises because then you have the people you would actually be evacuating and you may learn some things you didn't anticipate would happen."

"We always have to be in a ready state, and peninsula-wide it's a 'ready to fight tonight' type of attitude, so I feel as noncombatant evacuees we need to be ready and go through the process and practice that process so we can be ready to be evacuated," said Carol Wood, an Air Force spouse.

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