USS Bonhomme Richard, 31st MEU Conduct NEO Drill

Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) drill while underway off the coast of Okinawa March 15.

NEO is the safe evacuation of American civilians and embassy officials in the event an emergency situation arises in a foreign country.

Bonhomme Richard and the 31st MEU conducted the drill to train their personnel in case the need to conduct such an operation arises in the 7th Fleet area of operations.

The participants in the drill playing the part of evacuees were Marines assigned to the 31st MEU and arrived on board Bonhomme Richard via a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 262.

Bonhomme Richard’s hangar bay was divided into separate stations, to include in-processing, a security check point, physical exams conducted by medical personnel and supply pick-up.

“We are conducting the NEO drill today as part of CERTEX [certification exercise] with the MEU,” said Bonhomme Richard’s Security Officer, Lt. Antonio Williams, a native of Chicago. “Once the evacuees arrive, the ship’s personnel take control of the drill. We are charged with getting them processed through the check points, examined by medical and issuing them any necessary supplies.”

Supply personnel provided food, water and blankets while the administration division created a database of all the evacuees.

As the role players were screened, medical personnel provided simulated care and treatment if needed.

“Humanitarian assistance is one of Bonhomme Richard’s primary missions, and behind the Navy’s two hospital ships, USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort, we are the largest floating medical facility in the fleet – we have six operating rooms, an ICU and embarked Fleet Surgical Team (FST) 7,” said Bonhomme Richard’s Senior Medical Officer, Cmdr. Nicki Tarant. “We can be tasked with conducting the evacuation of Americans and foreign personnel with serious medical emergencies and our capabilities make us an integral piece of the Navy’s mission.”

According to Williams, the preparation and training Bonhomme Richard Sailors receive is what keeps them mission ready at all times. “With the frequency that we deploy, it is imperative that we are prepared,” said Williams. “We can be called upon at any time to conduct a NEO, and I think our Sailors proved during today’s drill that Bonhomme Richard is ready.”

The Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) is participating in a certification exercise and is comprised of Bonhomme Richard, and the amphibious dock landing ships USS Tortuga (LSD 46) and USS Germantown (LSD 42), and reports to Commander, Amphibious Forces 7th Fleet, Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, headquartered in White Beach, Okinawa.

Naval Today Staff, March 19, 2013