Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief Looms Large in Asia-Pacific

February 12, 2015
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The United States builds friends and adds allies with its help to nations in need.

Humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) has become so important a part of U.S. operations in the Asia-Pacific region that experts now are viewing it as a military doctrine and striving to improve it. In an area that constitutes half the world’s surface and contains most of its people, natural disasters that damage a nation severely occur yearly. The U.S. response to these annual crises of nature defines much of the military’s operations in that vast region.

A panel of former military flag officers and a civilian regional expert discussed major issues in HA/DR during West 2015, being held in San Diego, February 10-12. Vice Adm. Doug Crowder, USN (Ret.), former commander, Seventh Fleet, described some vital areas of improvement that would define a successful operation.

The first is speed to action—“We can be a lumbering giant sometimes,” Adm. Crowder said. Command and control (C2) is another issue, as U.S. forces often want to place it ashore in an area where the power and communications infrastructure may have been wiped out by the natural disaster to which the force is responding. “Army general, come to the aircraft carrier, we have C2 you can use until you get your bivouac ashore,” the admiral offered. Strategic communications also are important, and the force needs to be willing to take risks when doing HA/DR, he added.

Rear Adm. Douglas McAneny, USN (Ret.), former commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet, emphasized the importance of relationships between leaders of U.S. forces and those of the damaged country. Adm. Crowder pointed out that the United States had the barest of relationships with Indonesian officials prior to the tsunami that killed nearly a quarter million people in December 2004. The U.S. tsunami response began a new relationship between the two nations, and it resulted in soaring U.S. popularity there.

Even China was affected by the HA/DR response to the tsunami. Embarrassed by criticism of its relatively small relief response, China now recognizes the importance it poses. Adm. Crowder said that in its new program objective memorandum, the first ship being built by its navy is a hospital ship.


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