Photo Information

Service members from the U.S., Thailand, and Malaysia guard the processing center for a noncombatant evacuation operation, as part of Cobra Gold 17 at Naval Airbase Utapao, Thailand, Feb. 19, 2017. The drill was conducted to exercise joint, multinational cooperation during disaster relief. Cobra Gold is the largest Theater Security Cooperation exercise in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and is an integral part of the U.S. commitment to strengthen engagement in the region. U.S., Thai, Malaysian and Japanese forces participated in the disaster relief drill.

Photo by Cpl. Steven Tran

Nations practice non-combatant evacuations at Cobra Gold 17

21 Feb 2017 | Sgt. Matthew Sissel U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific

What would you do if you were in a foreign country in the wake of a devastating natural disaster? On Feb. 19 at the Utapao International Airport in Thailand, militaries from the United States, Royal Kingdom of Thailand, Japan, and Malaysia practiced non-combatant evacuation operations and the rescue of Japanese nationals overseas, while officials from 18 other nations observed the event.

The NEO and RJNO was conducted as part of Exercise Cobra Gold 17, a Thai-U.S. co-sponsored exercise that increases cooperation, interoperability, and collaboration among partner nations in order to achieve effective solutions to common challenges.

Between the four participating nations, 200 role players were involved in the NEO and RJNO. The 90 role players for the RJNO were Japanese citizens of various ages who live in Bangkok and were invited to participate in the event by the Japanese embassy.

Governments around the world initiate a NEO when their citizens are in danger in a host foreign nation, typically as a result of a deteriorating security situation or a natural disaster. In 2011, several nations evacuated their citizens from Libya due to the Libyan Civil War.

The NEO/RJNO practiced at Cobra Gold 17 challenged participants to effectively process the evacuees from their reception at an airport hangar until they boarded a plane. The evacuees played roles that military personnel then had to respond to. Some of the role players were assigned injuries or medical conditions, others were given VIP status. A couple of the participants were asked to be non-compliant or to hide contraband.

The evacuees moved in stages through the NEO/RJNO. When they first arrived via ground transportation at the airport hangar, they received a quick security pat down before moving to the reception area located outside. At the reception area, the evacuees were separated by nationality and had to show proper documentation before being escorted inside the hangar. Once inside, they were brought to their country’s administration area where they were asked to fill out paperwork that would serve to identify and track them throughout the evacuation.

The process continued, and if anyone was in need of medical attention, food, or water along the way, supplies and personnel were available to assist them.

Following the administrative stage, role players moved to a more focused security pat down to prevent the transport of contraband. After successful completion of this security phase, participants moved to an area where they were scheduled for transport.

The RJNO culminated with the boarding of evacuees onto a Japanese military C-130 aircraft and its subsequent takeoff for a short flight before landing again at the same airport.

By working together in events like the RJNO and NEO at Cobra Gold 2017, partner nations are addressing shared goals and security commitments in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region while ensuring effective responses to regional crises.

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U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific