By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, July 19, 2006 – Evacuating thousands of Americans from Lebanon is an extremely complicated undertaking, but one that service members train to accomplish, Defense Department officials said here today. American service members have been involved in getting U.S. citizens out of danger since the founding of the republic. Before the current non-combatant evacuation order - or NEO - for Lebanon, U.S. service members helped evacuate people from Liberia in 1993, Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, Indonesia after the tsunami in 2005, Liberia again in 2004, Panama in 1989 and Saigon in 1975.
Each of these NEO evacuations had different causes and different players. All have one thing in common, said Marine Capt. Jay Delarosa: uncertainty. The captain, who is a spokesman for the Corps, said there are always more questions than answers when faced with the evacuation mission. "You don't know how many people you are going to evacuate, or what kind of problems you are going to encounter," he said during an interview with American Forces Press Service. "You are always working with people you have not worked with before. You need to be flexible so you can best fit into the plan."
A NEO evacuation is always in support of the State Department. The U.S. ambassador is the senior authority for the evacuation, and embassy personnel are responsible for the plan and handle contacts with American citizens to be evacuated. Delarosa once deployed with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He said every MEU does six months of work-ups - what he called "the pre-deployment training to prepare for the unexpected" -- before it deploys. One work-up covers noncombatant evacuations.
The Marines work hand-in-hand with the Navy, and the Marines track developments on developments that might affect them, Delarosa said. He said that when called on, the sailors and Marines "are extremely excited." "You always want to do your part, whether it's in combat or for a humanitarian mission," he said.