Cobra Gold 16: Non-combatant evacuation operation

22 Feb 2016 | Cpl. Thor Larson The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

The U.S. military conducted a simulated non-combatant evacuation operation alongside the armed forces of Thailand, Malaysia and Japan Feb. 17, 2016, in Utapao, Thailand, during Cobra Gold 16.

Cobra Gold 16 demonstrates the commitment of the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States to our long-standing alliance and regional partnership toward advancing prosperity and security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. This year, the exercise included an increased focus on Humanitarian Civic Action, community engagements and medical activities conducted during the exercise to support the needs and humanitarian interests of civilian populations around the region. The NEO event is just one example of the many humanitarian assistance or disaster relief operations conducted during Cobra Gold 16.

“A NEO is used to move non-combatant personnel from a dangerous area, usually caused by a natural disaster, to a safe haven,” said 1st Lt. Danilo Rodriguez, the evacuation control center officer in charge with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “This is the civic action portion of Cobra Gold, and it’s important for us to be able to practice this because in this particular region, being the Pacific, natural disasters aren’t uncommon.”

This NEO was conducted with representatives from multiple nations to simulate a more realistic environment for all the militaries involved. 

The first step of an NEO is for the embassies to decide whether or not the area is safe for their citizens to stay after a natural disaster has occurred. If they decide that it is unsafe, then an NEO is conducted. The next step is to process the non-combatants and get them to safety.

“We have an evacuation control center, or ECC, where we take the U.S. citizens and process them,” said Rodriguez. “Once we get them processed, we move them to a waiting area before moving them to their transportation to a safer location.”

Every nation has similar procedures for conducting NEO’s, but there are small differences in procedure and language barriers that need to be worked around, according to Brigadier General Russell A. Sanborn, Commanding General of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. Exercises like Cobra Gold help to smooth out the small differences between nations by having them work through scenarios like this together. 

“The communication, planning and setting up something like this can get pretty extensive,” said Rodriguez. “When we actually come together like this, it allows us the opportunity to be better prepared in the long run and be able to execute a real-life NEO type of operation.”

This NEO was able to move hundreds of citizens from all four participating countries to simulated safe locations via aircraft and ships, according to Sanborn. All of the nations worked well together to get their citizens processed quickly and moved to safety.

This year’s exercise was an overwhelming success and events like the NEO show all nations involved how powerful we can be when we work together to accomplish a common goal. 

“This Cobra Gold has been just as strong as ever,” said Sanborn. "Cobra Gold is just one more example of the U.S. military’s unyielding commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific."