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31st MEU, State Department conduct non-combatant evacuation exercise

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Marines with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, with assistance from the Embassy of the Ryukyu Kingdom, evacuated American citizens Oct. 7, in response to rising danger to civilians in the area.

The scenario was part of a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) exercise, conducted during a certification exercise for the 31st MEU. The training prepares the expeditionary unit for contingencies that may arise in the Asia-Pacific.

Working hand in hand with members from the Department of State, Marines and their embassy counterparts coordinated the evacuation of the role-player American citizens in lieu of notional insurgent threats.

Department of State workers volunteered to role-play as US Embassy workers in the Ryukyu Kingdom and came from a wide variety of areas including the Consul General, US Embassy of Manila, US Embassy Bangkok and US Embassy Korea.

For Daniel Piccuta, the role-player Ambassador, this type of exercise is a unique opportunity to coordinate between the tactical level of the Marines on ground and the strategic level of the embassy.

“I’ve seen embassies have coups and request NEOs, but I’ve never actually experienced Marines arriving and extracting civilians,” said Piccuta. “For me, this is the final piece of the puzzle without actually living through it.”

Marines inserted Oct. 6th to facilitate the coordination between the MEU at sea on USS Essex and the Embassy. This group of Marines, called the Forward Control Element (FCE), represents the eyes on the ground for the rest of the 31st MEU located at sea on USS Essex.

“We want to ensure our capabilities match up to the Department of State’s requirements in regard to providing assistance,” said Lt. Col. Troy Roesti, executive officer of the 31st MEU. “Training with them helps us communicate our abilities and understand what they need prior to doing this for real”.

The FCE consists of personnel who represent very specific tasks within the MEU such as intelligence, communication, medical, explosive ordnance and public affairs.

The FCE and the 31st MEU are also trained and ready to deal with other contingency operations such as humanitarian aid and disaster relief in coordination with the embassy.

The 31st MEU is the United States force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region and remains the country’s only continuously forward deployed expeditionary unit.

Article by 2nd Lt. David Baugh, 31st MEU