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NEO Drill Prepares USS Essex for Civilian Evacuation at Sea

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS051019-03
Release Date: 10/19/2005 9:15:00 AM

From USS Essex Public Affairs

USS ESSEX (NNS) -- USS Essex (LHD 2) conducted a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) drill Oct. 16, during the ship’s fall deployment.

Essex, commanded by Capt. Martin J. Keaney, would be utilized as a safe haven to transport Americans and Embassy officials in the event of an emergency situation such as a natural disaster, war or chaotic civil unrest in a foreign country.

According to Essex Executive Officer Cmdr. Dorian F. Jones, the NEO drill provided crucial training for the ship.

“To have the NEO drill was extremely important,” said Jones. “To know that we have these capabilities as an LHD, the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship and being part of an ARG (Amphibious Ready Group) we could be called away to do a NEO drill at any time.”

NEO escort Aviation Machinist’s Mate Airman Timothy Vigil said he kept busy during the NEO drill. It was his job to keep an eye on the evacuees.

“We had escorts along many of the stops for the people coming aboard Essex,” said Vigil. “They were escorted down from the flight deck where they arrived and then into the ship’s hangar bay for general personnel and medical processing and security clearances. Since they normally wouldn’t know their way around the ship, it was our job to make sure they didn’t wander off.”

Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Michael A. Buchanan had participated in NEO drills at previous shore commands during his three-and-a-half years in the Navy.

“The biggest difference between doing a NEO drill at shore and at sea is you have more room to work with at shore, obviously. The barracks spaces, bigger administration area, and supply to see what the people need is in more abundance.”

Having seen other NEO drills, Buchanan said he felt that the ship would successfully handle a NEO situation.

“Everyone played the role they were assigned perfectly,” said Buchanan. "In the event of a real NEO, Essex would be the best place for the people. We would be here for the people in any country that needed us, and by taking care of the evacuees in a hostile situation, we’d be saving lives.”

“We hadn’t exercised this scenario in some time, but everyone knew their part and was ready to go. Everyone was very motivated, and the NEO drill was a complete success,” added Jones.

Essex is the Navy’s only forward deployed amphibious assault ship and is the flagship for the Forward Deployed Amphibious Ready Group operating out of Sasebo, Japan.


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