DILI, Timor Leste --
A Marine Corps helicopter flew 24 American citizens from the embassy compound here to USS Bonhomme Richard in the Pacific Ocean during an evacuation exercise Oct. 20.
A CH-53E Super Stallion landed on the front lawn of Ambassador Hans Klemm’s residence and a Marine crew chief loaded the passengers.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our citizens. It excites them,” said Jonathan Henick, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission.
Not all citizens are registered with the embassy, but Henick estimates that not more than 300 American citizens live in Timor Leste.
Seconds before boarding her first ride in a helicopter, Linda Leekley, from Wayzata, Minn., said “I’m always happy to do things to help my country.”
The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s aviation, logistics and ground-combat elements took part in the training, which was coordinated with State Department officials.
Cpl. Kevin Pope, a heavy-equipment mechanic with Combat Logistics Battalion 11, manned the reception desk, checked names and handed out color-coded bracelets for 44 people – men, women and children. Pope, 22, is from Boston.
Battery A, the artillery unit attached to the MEU’s Battalion Landing Team 2/4, provided security.
“There’s no doubt we’d be ready,” said Cpl. Bo Kim, 22, from Virginia Beach, Va. “We’ve been doing this training for months, and we have an outstanding chain of command down to corporals and sergeants who really take charge.”
Twenty others waited to board a second helicopter, but that aircraft was canceled for repairs.
“It beats the paper drills we’re used to doing,” said Henick. “This is a real exercise, and it shows what a real evacuation would be like.”
The 11th MEU, deployed with the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group, has been in Southeast Asia since Oct. 14 as part of Marine Exercise 2009. The exercise, hosted by U.S. Pacific Command, is focused on promoting theater security cooperation through civic action projects and military interaction.