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Waves of Marine helicopters to take to Yuma skies
Waves of Marine helicopters will be swooping down from the skies into two Yuma locations Friday afternoon and into the evening.
They'll be part of a real-world training exercise to simulate the emergency rescue and evacuation of civilians in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis.
The aircraft, along with a column of military vehicles and ground support Marines, will be conducting a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) exercise, which is held twice a year during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) Course.
A separate group of aircraft will also be flying to Twentynine Palms, Calif., to participate in a similar evacuation exercise there.
A highlight of WTI, the NEO exercise is held within the city limits to make the training as realistic as possible — training the Marines may need to execute in a future mission.
“The purpose here is we provide the students with the most realistic training that we can in order to allow them to conduct this mission real-world, if it ever takes place,” said Maj. William “Huey” Lewis, evolution coordinator.
“The reality is that this is a mission that the students, as they leave here, may actually be called upon to conduct. In terms of the Marine Corps, this is the best location for that training.”
From a historical perspective, 16 NEOs have taken place throughout the world since the Korean War, including such places as Vietnam, Somalia and Lebanon.
The exercise will begin at 4 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 two landing zones will be Kiwanis Park, 8th Street and Magnolia Avenue, and Trinity Christian Center, 4309 W. 16th St.
“Those are the locations we have used over the previous few courses, and those locations actually work out pretty well for us,” Lewis said.
In explaining the exercise, Lewis said it will begin with the insertion of security forces via helicopter, who will then fan out around the landing zones and secure them against “hostile” forces. As part of the training, a consular affairs officer with the State Department will work in tandem with the Marines at the Kiwanis Park landing zone to coordinate the evacuation.
“What you can expect there are several waves of helicopters, day into night, landing into Kiwanis beginning with the insert of the security forces, followed by the evacuation, taking everybody out in reverse order,” Lewis said.
During the exercise, a Quick Reaction Force convoy of military vehicles will make its way through the city of Yuma to the Trinity Christian Center landing zone to provide security and aid during the evacuation procedure being conducted there.
To ensure safety, Lewis said, helicopters will not fly lower than 500 feet above the ground except for when taking off and landing at the landing zones. He added that the other aircraft involved, including the escorting aircraft, will fly at altitudes between 700 and 2,000 feet, and that no aircraft will carry munitions.
Lewis also said Marine Crash Fire and Rescue will be stationed at both landing zones, as well as Yuma police and military police. As always, spectators are welcome to observe the exercise, although they are asked to remain a safe distance away.
Helicopter flights, in groups of one or two at a time, will land at both landing zones during the six hours to take on civilian evacuees. The exercise will end with the extraction of the security forces by 10 p.m.
MAWTS-1 commander Col. Brad Gering said the squadron has worked in conjunction with the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office during this session of WTI to use solar panels to power up some of the electronic systems that would typically use gas-powered generators to charge.
“In this course, it was using solar panels to charge the electronic systems for howitzer artillery pieces. This will likely be an ongoing relationship as the Expeditionary Energy Office comes up with other initiatives it wants to demonstrate. We are certainly going to be cooperative there and take advantage of what we have here in Yuma.”
More ground troops are participating this time, said Gering, as they try to incorporate more of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) concept into the training. An MAGTF combines both ground and aviation units into a balanced expeditionary unit.
Gering said a full infantry division of Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., is participating in the current session, as well as an air defense battalion from the U.S. Army.
“That is more than what we have had in the past, and something I think you will see more of in the future.”
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
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.