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USS Wasp Trains Underway For Civilian Contingency Support

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Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) conducted a civilian contingency support drill at sea Aug. 29.

The drill helped prepare the crew for potential large-scale humanitarian aid operations and taught Wasp Sailors how to effectively interact with and assist those in need.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for an American civilian to come aboard and integrate into shipboard life," said Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Williams, Wasp training officer.

Wasp and the other ships of Amphibious Task Force 26 are preparing to support operations along the Atlantic Coast in the wake of Hurricane Irene if requested.

"The main area of concern is to make sure [those in need are] safe," said Lt. j.g. James Ratliff, the security officer aboard Wasp. "We want to focus on disaster relief...and let them know we are out here standing by to help if anything is needed."

The drill addressed a wide variety of circumstances that occur during a humanitarian crisis, including temporarily caring for civilians who no longer have a home to return to. In these situations, ships like Wasp are equipped with grief counselors, chaplains and medical services, as well as bedding and food.

"We're expecting distressed civilians who are simply looking for a safe haven and we want WASP to be there for them," said Williams. "They're coming from a broken home, maybe no home, so we want to make it as easy as possible for an American citizen to come on board and integrate into a shipboard life."

To help facilitate this transition, chaplains practiced their role of grief counselors to comfort distressed people, and did their best to relieve some of the stress for civilian role players during the event.

Using non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) procedures as a template for C2S2 planning, Wasp trainers modified where necessary to make this an operation for taking aboard American citizens.

"With NEO we're taking in people we're not familiar with, here we're expecting distressed civilians coming to a safe haven - USS Wasp," said Williams.

While guarding against combatants or undesirables is a priority during NEO, C2S2 focuses purely on disaster relief and comfort for U.S. citizens.

Many Wasp Sailors volunteered to help simulate an actual crisis scenario, but there were some components that could not be duplicated.

"We trained with only 40 volunteers [simulated displaced citizens] today, but we're prepared to take up to 1,000 people," said Williams.

With that many people on board, Williams said it's essential to maintain efficiency for everyone involved.

"After the training we found there are better ways to help get families checked on board and help get them through the check-in process quicker, so it's one less stress they have to worry about," said Williams.

The main goal of the drill was to establish an effective system to provide aid in the wake of a major disaster.

"We have a concept of operations and I have no doubt we could execute it right now," said Ratliff.

Article by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Scott Youngblood, USS Wasp (LHD 1) Public Affairs