NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY, GRICIGNANO, Italy --
The USS San Antonio ported at Naples, Italy, for a little rest and relaxation after crossing the Atlantic Ocean, but for some of the Marines and Sailors aboard, their time in Italy was not all spent in the scenic streets, cafes and shops during the Neapolitan diversion.
Elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit teamed with Commander, Navy Installation East, and Sailors from the 6th Fleet to participate in the 6th Fleet’s annual Evacuation Control Center exercise here. Orchestrating the safe evacuation of hundreds or thousands in the cacophony of a natural disaster is a perishable skill these Navy and Marines units can apply here or anywhere they are called.
Marines and Sailors from the 26th MEU’s Combat Logistics Battalion-26 and Battalion Landing Team 2/6 participated in the drills, which were held in the Naval Exchange buildings aboard the base.
The troops from the MEU took advantage of the opportunity to further refine their evacuation skills, which were already thoroughly engrained from the MEU’s six-month predeployment workup period.
The exercise also was the first time the MEU was able to use the Noncombatant Evacuation Operation Tracking System (NTS). This computerized method of handling a large volume of evacuees would help MEU Marines protect and process civilians during a real operation such as an embassy evacuation, said 1st Lt. Daniel R. Robinson, officer-in-charge for the MEU during the exercise.
"We have never used the NTS before, so it was good to get our hands on it," he said.
Robinson explained that the system, which uses computers, scanners and bar-coded bracelets for evacuees, is faster and more useful in some situations.
Normally the MEU uses simple handwritten cards which serve the same purpose, but whose independence on electricity make them slightly more flexible in some environments, said Robinson.
"Everything we would do would be contingent on the situation," he said. "It could be on an airfield or even on a beach, but if we were evacuating a base then a large building like the exchange could be typical."
The Marines and sailors processed volunteers from the base as well as a busload of Junior Reserve Officer Training Cadets from the base high school.
Juan A. Thomison, a member of the JROTC, said the exercise was a lot of fun for the students, most of whom hadn’t ever been involved in a military exercise before.
"It looked real," he said, adding, "I’ve only seen things like this in movies, like 'I Am Legend.'"
Some of the volunteers and students were asked to play roles, such as pregnant women, sick people, or troublemakers who started fights in line.
Some were even told to act as though they had explosives in their bags, leading to swift action by the Marines, who evacuated the area, detained the role-players involved, and called in mock explosive ordnance disposal teams to remove the threat.
Following the conclusion of the exercise, Robinson was pleased with the results.
"It was a success in my book," he said. "We learned how to use the NTS, as well as linked with the 6th Fleet and learned their expectations of us."
The 26th MEU will continue to train during its current deployment aboard the ships of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group in support of the Global War on Terror.
For more news and information about the 26th MEU, visit www.26meu.usmc.mil.