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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Military officials are preparing for the first of two peninsula-wide noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) exercises, hoping to ease some of the delays encountered last time.

The three-day Courageous Channel 2004-01 will kick off Feb. 19, simulating the evacuation of thousands of U.S. citizens and noncombatants in South Korea “in the event of a natural disaster, civil unrest or impending military conflict,” officials said.

The mandatory exercise involves going through the paperwork process and physically going to an “evacuation station” at bases throughout the peninsula. A small group of volunteers actually are to be evacuated from South Korea, likely to Japan.

At Yongsan Garrison, for example, evacuation processing stations are to be set up at Collier Field House on South Post and the Hannam Village housing area chapel. In the exercise, the stations also are to serve as information stations, with soldiers and airmen on hand to answer questions about the evacuation process, gas masks for civilians and dependents and other topics.

Last October’s Courageous Channel bogged slightly by new requirements for additional data collection on evacuees, officials said. This year, they hope to avoid those problems.

“We have increased our capacity by adding additional stations for data input. We are confident that all noncombatants will process through the center quickly and efficiently,” said Capt. William Rene, the Area II NEO officer.

Rene likened NEO drills and preparation to insurance: “One hopes they will never need it, but are glad to have it if and when it’s needed.”

Noncombatants are encouraged to prepare and keep NEO kits on hand. Those kits include a U.S. Forces Korea preparedness checklist, proof of U.S. citizenship or legal residency, military ID and passport, birth and marriage certificates, power of attorney forms, wills, insurance policies and other essential documents.

They also should pack an NEO bag, to include gas masks, a three-day supply of lightweight food, small radio with extra batteries, flashlight, bottled water, toiletries, sleeping bag, extra clothing and, if needed, a 30-day supply of medications.

In the past, some have questioned whether the estimated 72,000 American noncombatants here could be evacuated in a real crisis.

“We’ve developed a detailed plan. We rehearse that detailed plan on a regular basis and we refine that plan after every time we rehearse it. So we’re constantly improving it,” Col. Frank Harman, Joist Task Force Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation staff chief, told Stripes last year.

Lt. Gen. Charles Campbell, 8th Army commander, also is confident. “Having served in Korea in three different decades, I have seen continued progress in our planning, resources and training exercises involving NEO,” he said in a statement to Stripes last year. “We are trained, ready and resourced to conduct an NEO.”

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