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Essex Trains for Civilian Evacuations During NEO Drill

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS080213-08
Release Date: 2/13/2008 12:36:00 PM

By Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Ty Swartz, USS Essex Public Affairs

USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) conducted a non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) drill Feb. 11, during the ship's spring patrol.

Essex, commanded by Capt. Brent Canady, could be utilized as a safe haven to transport American citizens and Embassy officials in the event of an emergency situation such as a natural disaster, war or civil unrest in a foreign country.

Essex and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted the drill to train personnel in case the need to conduct such an operation should arise.

According to Essex Executive Officer, Capt. Troy Hart, the NEO drill provided valuable training for the ship.

"Essex is a very active ship and having the crew trained for a NEO is extremely important," said Hart. "The crew understands and trains constantly on each capability Essex offers and as the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious assault ship we could be called upon to conduct a NEO anytime. This was a great opportunity to review and refine our process so that we are ready when needed."

The participants in the drill playing the part of evacuees arrived on board Essex via landing craft air cushion. The hangar bay was divided into separate stations, such as personnel in-processing, medical and security screening and issuing of supplies.

Security Department personnel searched for weapons and other concealed items while the Administrative Department personnel created a database for all the evacuees. Each evacuee filled out forms to account for themselves, their families and even pets.

During a NEO, having uncleared people roaming the ship isn't an option, according to Essex security officer Ensign Steven Hoffen.

"Security of the ship is very important; we must take as many precautions as possible to ensure that contraband and weapons are not brought on board," said Hoffen. "We also had ship's self defense force stationed throughout the ship to escort evacuees so that they don't get lost."

Debriefing evacuees is also part of the NEO plan. Sailors from the Operations Department gather information about the situation ashore that might assist in locating other Americans or possibly update security information for ground forces.

After the evacuees are processed, they are assigned to one of the ship's berthing areas to relax and refresh while awaiting their eventual departure from Essex.

Essex departed Sasebo, Japan for its spring patrol throughout the Western Pacific region, Jan. 24.

During spring patrol Essex will participate in a series of bilateral maritime training exercises designed to build relationships and enhance operational readiness of partner Asian-Pacific nations. Essex will continue to make a positive difference in the Western Pacific through continued friendship building engagements, while remaining a vigilant force for security, stability and prosperity.

Essex is the lead ship of the only forward deployed U.S. Expeditionary Strike Group and serves as the flagship for Combined Task Force (CTF) 76; the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander.

CTF 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

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