PACIFIC OCEAN - The Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) exercise Feb. 12 off the coast of the Kingdom of Thailand.

Conducted as part of exercise Cobra Gold 2011, the NEO was designed to demonstrate the ARG’s ability to quickly evacuate civilians during a time of crisis.

“This NEO exercise was an enormous undertaking, but it went very smoothly,” said 1st Lt. Patrick Grainey, 31st MEU NEO team leader. “Hundreds of U.S. Marines and Sailors processed and transported more than 100 Japanese, Thai and American mock evacuees to where they needed to be. We utilized helicopters and amphibious craft from various countries and hit our timelines right on the dot.”

On shore, evacuees were organized, informed of the evacuation process and thoroughly searched before being medically screened for illness, injury or special needs. Evacuees then filled out tracking and safety documents before boarding helicopters and landing craft, air cushions for evacuation to the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2).

“Essex personnel really had to work hand-in-hand for this evolution to go as planned and I think we did that very well,” said Chief Master-at-Arms (SW) Stacy Holmes, with Essex security. “Our security team, ship’s self defense force and 31st MEU counterparts responded well and got everyone where they needed to be.”