NEO prep essential to mission, family readiness
By Senior Airman Marissa Tucker, 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 20, 2012
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Imagine that on a sunny afternoon, you receive a call from someone in your office warning you about the potential of extreme weather. Several hours later, a recall initiates and you learn a hurricane is headed straight for your base.
Wouldn't you want your family to get to safety as soon as possible?
Although the example is dramatic, it is not an impossibility at an overseas base. The Department of Defense recognizes these possibilities and mandated that all overseas bases have a noncombatant evacuation plan to quickly move family members, DOD civilians, non-mission essential personnel and sometimes host-nation civilians during events such as natural disasters, the outbreak of war or when the area is deemed unsafe.
"Our last Noncombatant Evacuation Operation was in 2003 after the buildup of Iraq," said Master Sgt. Ann Mitchell, Airman & Family Readiness Center NCO in charge and wing NEO program coordinator. "The families were gone for about four months at that time."
Once an evacuation order is issued, evacuees have minimal time to be prepared to board an aircraft to a safe location. There is vast paperwork that must be processed to ensure the families of military members are taken care of during the duration of their evacuation. For this reason, all military members on accompanied overseas tours must have a current NEO folder on file. Having a current, correct folder can make the evacuation process quicker and faster, should the need arise.
"If something happens and we need to quickly get all of the noncombatants at Incirlik to a safe place, you probably don't want to be stressing out to find all the necessary documents," Mitchell said.
The folder includes all the paperwork people who are evacuating need to outprocess before they board a plane. Copies of passports, identification cards, advance pay forms, repatriation documents and, most importantly, an escort agreement are some of the documents that must be included.
The escort agreement is completed by the person who will escort children of military members younger than 18 back to the U.S. or another haven should an evacuation be initiated. The escort must be 18 or older and is solely responsible for ensuring the children they escort arrive to their destination.
"I find it extremely important to have a plan because being a single parent, I need to be proactive versus reactive to a NEO-related situation," said Tech. Sgt. Samantha Wallace-Ferguson, NCO in charge of program support at the base chapel.
A common misconception is that the escort is responsible for the children they escort for the duration of the evacuation.
"The escort is only responsible for ensuring the children they escort are united with the person designated to take care of them in the U.S., or wherever the parents want them to go," Mitchell said.
Choosing an escort can be easy for some, but harder for others, such as single parents or dual-military parents. Because the folder must be complete 60 days after arrival to an overseas base, many have a hard time quickly choosing someone they trust to be responsible for their children during an evacuation.
"Try to find someone you can trust, but also try not to ask someone who is not already escorting several children. You don't want someone trying to navigate airports alone with eight or nine small kids," Mitchell said.
It can be a time consuming and tedious task to complete the folder, but should an evacuation be activated, military members and their families must be ready to react at a moment's notice. Struggling to gather documents while also preparing to say goodbye to family members for an unknown length of time can add to the stress of the situation.
"You never know the when and what, so having everything for your family squared away in advance will save heartaches in the end," Wallace-Ferguson said.
Accompanied Airmen must complete their NEO folder no more than 60 days after arrival to Incirlik. Keeping 100 percent accountability is crucial to mission readiness. For questions about the NEO program, contact your unit NEO representatives or the A&FRC at DSN 676-7015.