January 24, 2013 -- CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa, Japan -- Marines with III Marine Expeditionary Force participated in a joint humanitarian operations course Jan. 17-18 at Hashmarks, the staff noncommissioned officers’ club on Camp Courtney.
The course ensures Marines are prepared to coordinate future humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. It also ensures that HADR responses take place within the parameters of existing policies and funding.
Members of the III MEF command element, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in the course.
The military liaison team with USAID provided the instruction.
“When we started the class, we asked how many Marines had direct experience with HADR operations, and approximately 50 percent raised their hands,” said Lt. Col. Lee W. Suttee, a military liaison team member with USAID. “So, they are already effective, and they were effective just a month ago in the Philippines. What this training does is bring the Marines who don’t have experience up to speed and smooth out the process for all of them.”
The course especially benefitted the Marines of 3rd MEB during their process of standing up the brigade’s staff, according to Suttee.
“Part of standing up 3rd MEB’s staff is training it on core missions, and one of those missions is disaster relief,” said Suttee. “The course highlights how (this process) works and helps the Marines envision how the response will play out. In my experience, it is always easier to accomplish something when you can picture how it is supposed to go.”
The class addressed problems frequently encountered during HADR operations and the lessons learned during recent relief operations through lectures, presentations and small-group discussions.
“The class helps (the Marines) understand that foreign disaster response is very different,” said Yonahton A. Bock, the military humanitarian assistance advisor with the military liaison team, USAID. “The course shows you how to avoid problems and ensures you are providing only unique capabilities to USAID’s lead during relief efforts.”
The training helped the Marines understand nuances such as the requirement to provide only capabilities and unique support to the relief effort that can not be provided by civilian entities, with the exception of support that directly saves lives.
The course also discussed ideal response timelines, best practices for selecting, forwarding and preparing donated goods for distribution, the relationship between the U.S. military and coordinating agencies such as the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, the extent of command discretion during HADR operations, and prioritizing relief efforts.
“One of the most important aspects of relief operations is working with the mission-tasking matrix to validate and prioritize DOD missions,” said René Van Slate, an advisor to U.S. Pacific Command with USAID and Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.
Van Slate recently used the mission-tasking matrix in coordination with III MEF during HADR operations this past December in response to Typhoon Bopha in the Republic of the Philippines.
“We used the system for every flight, and it brought clarity to operations allowing the Marines to complete their mission,” Van Slate said.
“It is integral to the success of the U.S. government as a whole that we respond to natural disasters as a unified, coordinated force. We represent the U.S. people (during disaster relief operations). Well-coordinated responses demonstrate our commitment,” added Van Slate.
The course teaches approximately 5,000 students annually at 100 courses held at various combatant commands, schools and agency headquarters.
“We empower individuals to go back to their senior leadership and brief them that they have the tools to be effective,” said Bock. “In the end, the military and government agencies are better prepared to work together to provide relief when needed, and that’s the most important takeaway.”