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U.S. servicemembers in-process evacuation exercise volunteers Friday morning at Busan, South Korea.
U.S. servicemembers in-process evacuation exercise volunteers Friday morning at Busan, South Korea. (T.D. Flack / S&S)
U.S. servicemembers in-process evacuation exercise volunteers Friday morning at Busan, South Korea.
U.S. servicemembers in-process evacuation exercise volunteers Friday morning at Busan, South Korea. (T.D. Flack / S&S)
Sgt. 1st Class Ruth Drewitt places an identification bracelet on 8-year-old Kelly Smith early Thursday morning at Camp Henry, South Korea.
Sgt. 1st Class Ruth Drewitt places an identification bracelet on 8-year-old Kelly Smith early Thursday morning at Camp Henry, South Korea. (T.D. Flack / S&S)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — U.S. Forces Korea officials used buses, trains, ferries and planes to move volunteer noncombatants Friday from Korea to Japan as part of a twice-annual evacuation exercise.

Officials recently made sweeping revisions to the exercise after volunteers from an April exercise complained they weren’t provided adequate medical, psychological or administrative aid after the commercial ferry they were in struck what officials believed to be a whale.

Many of April’s volunteers found themselves soaked, waiting in life boats for the South Korean Coast Guard.

Changes include a better-staffed command post, medical personnel and South Korean translators aboard the ferry and plane and improved communications through the use of satellite phones.

The volunteers who participated in the “sail-away” portion of Friday’s exercise traveled from various points throughout South Korea to meet in Busan early Friday morning.

Lt. Col. Pat Hampton, USFK Readiness Branch chief, was on hand to brief them about the trip. The goal, he told them, was to make it “as painless and comfortable for you as possible.”

He explained that “this is a training exercise,” that they might rush to get somewhere, than have to wait.

He talked briefly about the April incident, explaining that “I think we’ve addressed all” of the issues.

Hampton introduced Capt. Christopher King, officer-in-charge of the Troop Medical Clinic at Camp Carroll.

While soldiers scurried about the international port terminal, gathering passports and scanning volunteers’ identification bracelets, King suggested anyone worried about getting seasick should take their medicine.

He said while he was prepared for almost any emergency - his medical bag was packed with a defibrillator, IV fluids, antibiotics and airway tubes — the “most likely thing would be motion sickness.”

The escorts from each area were tasked with updating their commands on a regular basis.

“You can’t call me enough,” Area IV’s Ken Edland told volunteer escort Sgt. 1st Class Ruth Drewitt.

Some of the volunteers said they had heard of the April incident but that didn’t prevent them from volunteering for this trip.

Kimberly Doyon, who traveled from Area II with her 14-year-old daughter Laura, said she wasn’t worried about an incident. “It was a one time thing,” she said of the last ferry striking the whale. “Things happen.”

She said everything was working perfectly Friday.

And Tammy Smith, traveling with her 6-, 8- and 12-year-old children, said everything was fine.

“I enjoyed the trip,” she said while unloading at the barracks at Iwakuni.

All the volunteers were provided feedback sheets that they were encouraged to complete. That, Hampton said, will help USFK “refine procedures and techniques.”

“We couldn’t do it without them,” he said of the volunteers.

They were provided $50 of food coupons and offered a free sightseeing trip to Hiroshima on Saturday. On Sunday, they were to return to Korea.

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