16 March 2017

USA: Pacific Partnership 2017 Shifts Focus to Humanitarian Aid/Disaster Relief

By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Micah Blechner, Pacific Partnership

HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka, March 15, 2017 — Members of the U.S. armed forces and the Sri Lankan air force and navy exchanged best practices and lessons learned during a first-ever, bilateral Humanitarian Aid/Disaster Relief Symposium held at the Magam Ruhunupura International Convention Center here March 13.

This symposium, part of Pacific Partnership 2017, was led by the Sri Lankan navy and focused most of its efforts discussing disaster management and relief response in scenario driven events such as tsunamis and flooding caused primarily by natural disasters.

Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief Preparedness

Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, and aims to enhance regional coordination in areas such as medical readiness and preparedness for man-made and natural disasters.

Participating in this year's Sri Lanka mission are partner military and nongovernmental personnel from the United States, Australia, and Japan.

"Participating in forums like this are of huge value to the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy and Department of Defense as a whole," said Marine Corps Capt. Nathan Jensen. "Discussing, coordinating, and practicing humanitarian aid operation with nations throughout South and Southeast Asia builds our knowledge base of their organic capabilities as well as showcasing the capabilities we are able to provide.”

Jensen went on to explain that these evolutions help build relationships with other nations and promote international military interoperability.

"Because we have preexisting relationships with these countries that are more prone to massive natural disasters, we are able to more easily incorporate ourselves as an organization into their disaster management plan and provide immediate relief in any type of conceivable scenario," Jensen said.

Pillars of Disaster Relief Operations

Three pillars of disaster relief were established early in the symposium: immediate engineering needs such as clearing roads and establishing critical supply avenues, a "first-in" capability for water purification, and an initial Command and Control Center for both overall logistical and follow-on manning support.

"Our biggest hurdle as humanitarian aid planners has got to be access," said Maj. Charles Hunt, Marine Corps Task Force Commander for Pacific Partnership 2017. "During cases involving natural disasters our main portals of access have usually been literally swept away with the tide."

After the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010, both the airport and seaport were ruined. After South Asia's deadly tsunami of 2004, only one temple was left standing in Hambantota, the one structure built from concrete.

"We have to have a way to project logistics and capabilities into affected areas," Hunt said. "Land-based capability projection requires airports and roads in order to distribute much needed assistance. Working with our U.S. and Sri Lankan navy colleagues provides us with an opportunity to exercise our coordinated sea-based distribution capabilities."

Field Training Exercise

Over the course of Pacific Partnership 2017, Sri Lanka, the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and their Sri Lankan counterparts have been discussing and planning many key aspects of disaster relief operations, all of which come to a head tomorrow, when all players will participate in a field training exercise on the beaches of Hambantota.

"It has been one of the great honors of my career to be able to come and work with my colleagues here in Sri Lanka," Jensen said. "The sheer magnitude of their desire to work with us has been truly humbling. It is clearly evident from what I have seen they don't need our help. They want us to be here so we can build that trust and a relationship that forges a working interoperability that ensures we can work with each other seamlessly in times of true need."

"No one nation can achieve any level of mission success in these areas of operations without help," Hunt said. "Playground rules apply in the grown-up world, and here we are in an area of the world that is prone to natural disasters and destructive weather. So, the more friends we all have, the better we are able to recover from disasters."

Now in its 12th year, Pacific Partnership continues to enhance regional partnerships and host nation relationships through civil-military cooperation, medical exchanges, and inter-government agency coordination.