Kuwait -- -- The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) evacuated more than 200 American citizens and embassy staff to the Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group during a noncombatant evacuation operation exercise, Nov. 30.
The Marines and Sailors of the 13th MEU(SOC) and Tarawa ARG kicked off their MEU exercise in Kuwait by landing at the American embassy and a beach evacuation site, where they worked hand-in-hand with embassy officials and the U.S. Army to successfully train for a hasty evacuation.
The MEU(SOC)'s ground combat element comprised the majority of the NEO force with two companies providing security and operating processing stations for the evacuees. The helicopter-borne company, K Co., secured and evacuated the American embassy, while D Co.,1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, simultaneously protected the beach evacuation site. Marines from MEU Service Support Group 13, assisted by the American consular office, got more than 200 United States citizens off the beach in Landing Crafts Air Cushioned. They were taken to USS Tarawa (LHA-1) and USS Anchorage (LSD-36).
"This was the biggest evacuation exercise accomplished by the U.S. military in four years"? said John Reitman, a vice consul from the American Embassy in Kuwait, "and the Marines upheld their reputation for being very professional.
"Showing the more than 5,000 American citizens living here how they would be evacuated is a great way to ease their minds," he said.
The evacuees were in awe at how well the Marines handled the evacuation. "They were very quick and efficient in getting us out of here," said Les Lakie, an American citizen working in Kuwait. "They made sure everyone stayed safe and got out in a hurry."
"We can now tell our families, who are worried about us back in the United States, that we will be well taken care of if we ever have to really be evacuated," said Margaret Lakie, Les' wife.
"These exercises provide tremendous reassurance to all of our people that there is a mechanism here and that it works well," said James A. Larocco, the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait.
This exercise differed slightly from NEO training in the past, but the Marines had no problem adapting to the more realistic situation.
"Normally we train for these situations at a combat town or abandoned building," said 1st Lt. Johnny Gutierrez, the MSSG-13 military police detachment commander. "Today they had to relieve Army Special Forces and embassy security. It gave us a better taste for an actual evacuation."
Another difference was Marines and Sailors had to work hand-in-hand with the embassy and Army personnel to make sure the right people were evacuated and taken care of. The evacuation control center, which had previously been handled solely by Marines, was suddenly a joint processing station comprised of embassy officials, Army clerks and Marines.
The consular officers, who are responsible for keeping track of all American citizens in country, were the first stop in the processing line for evacuees. They verified that each person was eligible to be evacuated. All American citizens and family members, as well as others designated by the ambassador were approved.
"My office is the deciding authority on who can be evacuated by the Marines," said Amy Schedlbauer, acting American consul. "We have every American in Kuwait registered in our computers. If someone comes up and is not on our list and I don't recognize them, we have to go into a very detailed check to verify they are authorized to be evacuated by the Marines."
Evacuees then met with the Army clerks to make sure they had a place to stay when they returned to the United States, said Schedlbauer. This station also assured that they had enough money to survive on when they got back. The Army is able to provide loans for this type of emergency.
Marines manned the last two stations. First they sorted each evacuee by their priorities. American citizens and their families were given the highest priority. Then with the colored wristband designating that priority, the evacuees got into lines to be assembled into groups to leave. As soon as the first group was assembled and ready to leave, they climbed aboard a LCAC for a short transit to the Tarawa ARG.
Embassy officials also appreciated the benefit they got from this exercise.
"We learned a lot by watching the full processing of evacuees on the ships," Schedlbauer said. "Being able to practice our processing at an off-site location away from the embassy was also a very valuable experience."