Osan participates in NEO exercise

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- Nearly 700 households processed through Osan's Evacuation Control Center Oct. 27 to Saturday as part of Courageous Channel 06-2 which tested all aspects of the U.S. Forces Korea non-combatant evacuation operation program. Osan's NEO program received the "BELL" of approval from the USFK commander. 

The NEO exercise encompassed Areas 1-6 on the peninsula and included a fly-away and sail-away of 66 noncombatant evacuees volunteers to a safe haven at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. 

"A truly impressive effort by the Osan Airman and Family Readiness Center staff, our NEO wardens, and our Team Osan non-combatants ... well done," said Brig. Gen. Joe Reynes, 51st Fighter Wing and Area V commander. 

Courageous Channel 06-2 tested the response time and preparedness level of every NCE. From the in-processing area of an ECC, to the actual evacuation process and transporting them to an aerial port and sea port of embarkation and onto the safe haven where they would ultimately be processed for repatriation back to their home countries. 

"This was our first time participating in a NEO exercise as we just arrived to Korea two months ago," said Mr. Kevin Walters who participated in the sail-away with his 4-year-old son Isaiah. "It was a good learning experience to know there's someone around to help us. I would recommend others volunteer to participate in the future as the exercise gives you a good visualization of what to expect both good and bad. It was hard enough trying to evacuate with a 4-year-old; I can't imagine what it would be like with hundreds of young children going through the whole process at the same time." 

The average processing time for NCEs who processed through the ECC at Osan American High School was 15 minutes, said Master Sgt. Grant Embrey, Area-V superintendent of NEO. In all, 1,470 NCEs processed, 238 of which were from other areas, and an amazing 60-plus percent processed on the first day. 

"I think everything went exceptionally well," said Maj. Dan Ervin, Area-V officer in charge of NEO. "We not only met the commander's expectations of having maximum participation by all NCEs, but we managed to process 100 percent of all 51st FW non-combatants, while improving the overall processing rate of 95 percent during the May exercise to 98.4 percent for all of Area V this time. 

"This is the fourth NEO I've gone through on the 'pen' and this one is by far the best performance from Area V," said Major Ervin. 

His sentiments were validated during a recent visit by Gen. B.B. Bell, USFK commander, who highlighted two initiatives from the Area V NEO program and requested they be considered for possible benchmarking throughout the command. 

One of the initiatives is a by-name, by-unit directory of all non-combatants allowing NEO wardens to keep an accurate account of the NCE population in Area V. The other is the standardized NEO packet issued to each family/household upon arrival which includes all documents needed to expedite the processing and evacuation of an NCE. 

There's been a lot of positive feedback at all levels regarding the NEO program here; however, there's always room for improvement, said Master Sgt. Embrey, citing observations and feedback received from those involved in the Osan NEO program. 

"The entire (Airmen and Family Readiness Center) staff did a magnificent job. Everything was concise and well organized -- the best I've seen in a long time," said Chief Master Sgt. Nathan Turner, 51st Mission Support Squadron, who has nearly 27 years on active duty. "I feel much better knowing we have some sort of venue to get our non-combatants off the 'pen' in an organized fashion should the balloon go up."