Yuma skies, sites to fill with military aircraft
The airspace above the city of Yuma will be filled with 15 U.S. Marine Corps helicopters, jet fighters and support aircraft Friday afternoon and evening.
The aircraft, along with a column of military vehicles and ground support Marines, will participate in a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) exercise held twice a year during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) Course.
A separate group of 16 aircraft will fly to Twentynine Palms, Calif., to participate in a similar evacuation exercise there.
The NEO is designed to prepare the 76 students participating in the current round of WTI to evacuate civilians from hostile countries around the globe in the event of an emergency.
“There have been 16 (NEOs) since the Korean War, and odds are within the next few years there's probably going to be another,” said Maj. William “Huey” Lewis, assault support tactics-3 evolution coordinator.
“It is the only place where the students are going to get this type of training and it's a place where we can make it as realistic as possible.”
The NEO will begin at 5 p.m. and last until 10 p.m. There will be two landing zones within the city of Yuma where non-combatants will be waiting to be extricated. The civilians, portrayed by active-duty Marines wearing reflective vests, will be taken via airlift to an auxiliary landing field in the desert to the southwest of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
The first LZ will be at Trinity Christian Center, 4309 W. 16th St. The second will be at Kiwanis Park, 8th Street and Magnolia Avenue.
The exercise will begin with the insertion of security forces via helicopter who will fan out around the landing zones and secure them against “hostile” forces.
At the Kiwanis Park landing zone, a consular affairs officer with the State Department will work in tandem with the Marines to coordinate the evacuation.
“This is also good training for them,” Lewis said. “They enjoy sending their representatives out here as well because they aren't going to get this training really anywhere else on this scale.”
During the exercise, a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) convoy of military vehicles will make its way through the city of Yuma to the Trinity Christian Center LZ and then to the Kiwanis Park LZ to provide aid during the evacuation procedure.
The QRF is scheduled to arrive at Trinity Christian Center at 7 p.m. and at Kiwanis Park at 7:30 p.m.
To ensure safety, the assault helicopters will not descend to an altitude less than 500 feet at any time during the exercise except while landing and taking off from the landing zones.
“We will quickly get up to 500 feet to keep the noise down and try to minimize the effect of the noise over the city,” Lewis said.
In addition, escorting aircraft will not descend lower than an altitude of 700 feet, and no aircraft will carry munitions, he added.
Civilian spectators are welcome to observe the exercise, although both landing zones will be cordoned off by the Yuma Police Department and military police officers.
“Folks from the city like to come and watch this,” Lewis said. “However, we do have our security out there that will ensure that nobody is able to cross into the park. Safety is very important. We put a lot of coordination into this ... in order to ensure that we can not only safely execute (the mission), but also be good stewards of the city of Yuma. We appreciate the ability to be able to do this and we don't want to jeopardize that.”
Helicopter flights, in groups of one or two at a time, will land at both LZs to take on civilian evacuees. The exercise will end with the extraction of the security forces by 10 p.m.
For more information about the exercise, call the MCAS Yuma Public Affairs Office at 269-2275 or send an email to YumaPAO@usmc.mil.
For noise complaints during the exercise, call 269-2325.