Airmen from the 124th FW Simulate Evacuation in Rural Idaho

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Taylor Walker
  • 124th Air Support Operations Squadron

Airmen from the 124th Fighter Wing partnered with the U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Four to complete a non-combatant evacuation operation training, August 6 and 12, in Emmett and Horseshoe Bend, Idaho.

NEOs are conducted when civilians must be evacuated from a dangerous environment, typically during civil unrest, war or a natural disaster. In the past decade, NEOs have notably been utilized to evacuate populations during Hurricane Irma and the Libyan Civil War.

According to 124th Air Support Operations Squadron Chief Enlisted Manager Chief Master Sgt. Mike Furman, this type of high-visibility federal mission is easily transferrable to smaller, domestic situations, particularly within the state of Idaho.

“Picture a small, rural town in Idaho surrounded by wildfire or floods,” he said. “In those situations, we need to get people and their belongings out quickly, and just sending a few helicopters in alone won’t work. There’s logistically much more that comes into play.”

Multiple units from the 124th FW participated in the exercise to emulate this rural evacuation scenario, including special warfare tactical air control party Airmen from the 124th ASOS, and members of the 124th Security Forces Squadron and 124th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

“Security forces essentially helped with crowd control to keep people and the aircraft safe, and LRS was there to create manifests of civilians and their baggage to ensure the assisting aircraft could accommodate the weight,” Furman said.

Additional Airmen throughout the 124th FW volunteered their time to play the roles of evacuees during the exercise.

“I was surprised to see how much planning goes into effectively getting people out of a dire situation,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Poncia, an exercise volunteer and crew chief in the 124th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “It takes an extreme amount of thought and organization.”

Part of successfully organizing a training of this caliber is gaining buy-in from the small communities where exercises like NEOs take place. Furman said Idaho’s cities are overwhelmingly supportive when it comes to hosting a training in their backyard.

“It gives these towns a chance to look at us and realize that if they’re ever in danger or in need of assistance, we can help,” Furman said. “It builds the confidence of Idahoans and they understand that the National Guard is here to support them.”