MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- With propellers still spinning, Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit storm out of MV-22 Ospreys, entering a catastrophic situation; citizens are in desperate need of evacuation and are nearly 500 nautical miles away from a safe haven.
Service members with the 31st MEU sharpened their skills by conducting a Noncombatant Evacuation Operation certification exercise aboard Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, March 19, 2014.
Service members with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, who are permanently attached to the 31st MEU, often train for scenarios like NEOs, which transport civilians from hostile or dangerous situations to safe havens.
The exercise demonstrated the MEU’s ability to evacuate personnel while maintaining a high level of security with protesters present.
“Training like this makes sure the MEU practices its capabilities, gets evaluated and gets a passing grade so they can conduct operations like this during a float,” said Maj. Brad A. Higgins, an air officer with Special Operations Training Group and site officer in charge for the NEO exercise.
MCAS Iwakuni’s distance from the 31st MEU’s headquarters in Okinawa, Japan, made it an ideal location to utilize the capabilities of the Osprey during the exercise.
“This is the first time that we’ve done a long range NEO,” said Lt. Col. Omar J. Randall, CLB-31 commanding officer and mission commander of the NEO exercise. “By adding the Osprey to our available resources, we greatly improved our ability and extended the operational reach of the MEU.”
Compared to the CH-46 Sea Knight it replaced, the Osprey can fly approximately three times farther at twice the speed. The Osprey is also capable of air-to-air refueling, something the CH-46 Sea Knight could not do.
“The MEU is changing with the addition of the Osprey,” said Higgins. “It can go about 500 nautical miles farther than the CH-46.”
Randall said that the addition of the Osprey in the Pacific region has proven to be a great asset. During Operation Damayan, which took place in the Philippines after a typhoon in November of last year, the Osprey was able to provide humanitarian relief at a greater rate than ever possible with the CH-46.
The addition of the Osprey into the MEU’s arsenal has proven to greatly increase the unit’s operational effectiveness.
“By having the Osprey, we have that many more options,” said Randall. “We never know what we are going to get called on to do, so being able to do this type of exercise is really useful for when we get on ship.”
Higgins said that familiarizing the Osprey with the Japanese community and showing its capabilities to assist in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as NEOs, will help clear misconceptions about the aircraft.
“The Marine Corps, with assets like the Osprey, proves that we are the premier force in readiness in the (Pacific Command) community,” said Randall. “The fact that we’re able to come off the ship with everything we need and be self-sustaining shows the level of readiness we have. That should say a lot.”