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Osan spouse speaks out about NEO

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --  Mrs. Annalies McDonald, an advocate of the NEO program, is also an advisor for Cadet Troop 50 at Osan. During Cadet Troop 50’s weekly Wednesday meeting, Mrs. McDonald provided instruction to Madison Price and five other cadets on how to operate a quilter’s sewing machine with automated features. The cadets are working on an interest project focusing on clothing design. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael O’Connor)

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Mrs. Annalies McDonald, an advocate of the NEO program, is also an advisor for Cadet Troop 50 at Osan. During Cadet Troop 50’s weekly Wednesday meeting, Mrs. McDonald provided instruction to Madison Price and five other cadets on how to operate a quilter’s sewing machine with automated features. The cadets are working on an interest project focusing on clothing design. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Michael O’Connor)

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- "Be prepared" is not just a Boy and Girl Scouts' motto but it can accurately be applied to the members of Team Osan who could be asked to leave the peninsula to get out of harms way in the event of a military conflict. 

Spouses and other non-combatants on Osan practice to be ready to quickly gather their important belongings and get themselves and their family safely off the peninsula through the Non-Combatant Evacuation process. Just as the wing is "ready to fight tonight," so are the families and other non-combatants are ready to "flight tonight." In both cases, the key to success is practice and being ready. 

One Osan spouse had an experience 26 years ago in Germany that underscored the need for readiness. When she and her parents arrived at the evacuation control center, the NEO tracking system didn't have them enrolled in the system-thus they weren't expected, nor were they being looked for. 

"It was the summer of 1980 during the height of the Cold War," said Mrs. Annalies McDonald, then the daughter of an Army soldier, now the wife of Lt. Col. Joe McDonald, 303rd Intelligence Squadron. "The 7th Field Artillery Detachment, where my father was assigned, was located about an hour-and-a-half away from the initial evacuation checkpoint, and was somehow overlooked when the evacuation list was made. The only reason we were allowed to continue on with the exercise [when we showed up] is because all of our paperwork was in order." 

"Because we were so far away from any support at the time this occurred, the alternative plan for my family, had we not had the appropriate documents, would've been to burn our U.S. papers and have the entire family traveling around Germany on my mother's Dutch passport-minus my dad," said Mrs. McDonald. "This exercise allowed us to see first-hand what can happen with a lack of preparedness on any link in the evacuation chain." 

"The 'Be prepared' motto is the rally cry for my family," said Mrs. McDonald. "In this scenario, we were ready. But it was the people in charge of the exercise who didn't know where all their Non Combatant Evacuees were assigned to process and where they were coming from." 

"My dad must have been scared quite a bit, to think that his wife and children would have to worry about their futures and deny their country, for the lack of an accurate checklist in the right hands," said Mrs. McDonald. "I know that thought keeps Joe up at night. Rather, it used to. He sleeps much better now, thanks to Staff Sgt. James Allen and the 303rd NEO wardens." 

Although Mrs. McDonald's family wasn't left behind, because her parents were prepared, her family's experience illustrates the reason why U.S. Forces Korea "exercises" NEO on the Republic of Korea semi-annually, and why Brig. Gen. Joe Reynes, 51st Fighter Wing and Area V commander takes NEO very seriously and why the wing incorporates some aspect of NEO into every wing exercise at Osan. 

Peninsula-wide, there are more than 118,000 potential non-combatants that could have to be evacuated in a real-world situation, said Maj. Dan Ervin, Area V officer in charge of NEO. Approximately 1,600 of those would be from Osan and more than 4,500 from Area V as a whole. 

It's been more than 53 years since an armistice was signed ending the Korean War; however, no peace treaty between North and South Korea was signed. This coupled with the latest reports from North Korea make it crystal clear why everyone needs to be "Ready to Fight Tonight" and why all non-combatants need to be "Ready to Flight Tonight."