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Operation Fuerte Apoyo (Strong Support)
Hurricane Mitch
Joint Task Forces Bravo
Joint Task Force Eagle

Hurricane Mitch was the fourth-strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic and the worst natural disaster to strike Central America this century. The magnitude of the devastation was tremendous. Over 10,000 people killed; 13,000 missing; 60 percent of the infrastructure in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala destroyed; over 300 bridges, miles and miles of road washed away. About two million people were homeless, either displaced or their homes destroyed.

The United States engaged in an extensive relief effort in Central America in response to the disaster caused by Hurricane Mitch. US forces began contingency operations for the hurricane even before it hit land in October, thereby ensuring that relief efforts were an instant response. US troops in Soto Cano, Honduras, were closest to the disaster. Even before the rain stopped falling they were involved in the relief effort, involved in distributing emergency medical supplies of food and plastic sheeting for people to build shelter.

During Phase One of the US operation 1,377 U.S. military personnel helped save the lives of 700 individuals. They also distributed 1,141,560 kilograms of food; 42,525 kilograms of medical supplies; and 264,860 liters of water. Some of the international aid was coordinated with that of the United States, under the management of the US Southern Command in Miami. The effort was the biggest task undertaken in the context of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations by SOUTHCOM in recent history. Soldiers deployed to the region as part of Joint Task Forces Bravo, formed to coordinate the military's ongoing response in Honduras. Joint Task Force Eagle was established in El Salvador to coordinate military relief efforts in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Initially, a military base of operations was established at Soto Cano Air Force Base in Honduras. Forward bases were then established in locations such as La Ceiba, Honduras, and Guatemala City, Guatemala. This facilitated flights by 39 helicopters and six fixed-wing aircraft. The United States spent about $35 million on the emergency assistance phase, funded under a Presidential drawdown of $30 million.

This task force assisted in relief efforts on a number of fronts. Dozens of US military helicopters and aircraft operated daily and delivered over 2.5 million pounds of relief supplies (food, water, blankets, sheeting, sanitation services); additional helicopters arrived in the area on November 12, bringing the total to 39. Support included helicopters, engineering, bridge companies and road-building units, medical detachments and supplies, a field hospital, and 11 water purification systems. Dozens of US military helicopters and 13 fixed-wing aircraft operateed daily and delivered over 1.3 million pounds of relief supplies as of 16 November 1998. Ten Chinook heavy-lift helicopters arrived in the region on November 12, bringing the total to 39. SEABEE and other units cleared and repaired key roads. The military deployed a bridge company to the region to supplement efforts. The United States airlifted an initial 850 metric tons of food on 18 flights to Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, and another 6,000 metric tons arrived by ship before the end of the November.

The President subsequently directed a drawdown of an additional $$75 million in defense articles and services. These funds allowed the Department of Defense (DOD) to expand relief and reconstruction efforts in Central America. DOD and the US Agency for International Development were actively involved in rescue operations, as well as providing food, water and medical care. They also helped rebuild roads, bridges, houses, schools and medical facilities.

Phase Two of the relief operation, which began November 26, focused on rehabilitating essential infrastructure throughout the region to reestablish national capabilities to provide for health and basic welfare of the populace, including opening and clearing main roads, rebuilding main bridges, restoring power generation capabilities, digging wells, providing medical support, and rebuilding key structures. The US devoted 5,700 personnel drawn from all four military services to the second phase of the relief operation. Twenty more helicopters and four fixed-wing aircraft were devoted to regional relief efforts. Assets needed to carry out this phase of operations, including engineers and heavy equipment, arrived via 80 C-141 military airlifts and four sealifts. The overall effort was designed to try to restore damaged infrastructure as quickly as possible.

The third phase, the restoration phase, focused on long-term efforts to permanently repair infrastructure, rebuild economies, and mitigate storm damage to the greatest extent possible. This included building clinics, schools, and wells. The US military role decreased in the final phase, he said, as the role of non-governmental organizations and interagency groups increased.

The following active component units deployedo Central America for the build up to support relief efforts associated with Hurricane Mitch:

  • Air Force 819th Civil Engineering Squadron, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.
  • Air Force 820th Civil Engineering Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nev.
  • II Marine Expeditionary Force, Elements, Cherry Point and Camp LeJeune, N.C.
  • Marine Corps 2nd Force Service Support Group, Cherry Point and Camp LeJeune, N.C.
  • Marine Corps 8th Engineer Support Battalion, Camp LeJeune, N.C.
  • Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, and Gulfport, Miss.
  • Army 1st Corps Support Command, 18th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C.
  • Army 539th Corps Support Group, Fort Lewis, Wash.
  • Army 55th Engineer Company, Fort Riley, Kan.
  • Army 46th Engineer Battalion, Fort Polk, La.
  • Army Headquarters, 36th Engineer Group, Fort Benning, Ga.
  • Army 63rd Combat Support Equipment Company, Fort Benning, Ga.
  • Army 68th Combat Support Equipment Company, Fort Hood, Texas.

In addition, a large number of Guard and Reserve units were committed to the operation

Sources and Methods

  • Operation Fuerte Apoyo: Disaster Relief in Nicaragua By Major Jeff Eckstein Engineer Bulletin November 1999 -- On 22 November, the 36th Engineer Group, Fort Benning, Georgia, deployed its lead elements into the country as part of the U.S. relief effort known as Operation Fuerte Apoyo (Strong Support). The 36th was the command and control headquarters for all U.S. forces deployed to Nicaragua.
  • Operation Fuerte Apoyo wraps up mission (Army News Service, Feb. 11, 1999) -- Operation Fuerte Apoyo (Strong Support) was the largest U.S. disaster relief/humanitarian assistance mission in history for Central America. The military headquarters for the operation, Joint Task Force-Aguila (Eagle), at Comalapa Air Base, El Salvador, coordinated engineer, medical and humanitarian relief for 20.3 million people over a 259,925 square-mile area in the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
  • DoD Forms "Eagle Force" to Expand Mitch Relief American Forces Press Service 30 November 1998 -- DoD officials announced the creation of a second joint task force: Joint Task Force-Aguila -- Spanish for "eagle." The first, Task Force-Bravo, operates from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras.
  • U.S. relief effort continues in Honduras (AFPN) 30 Nov 1998 -- More than 16 million pounds of supplies and equipment for the Hurricane Mitch relief effort have landed on the flightline.
  • DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE SHIPS AID FOR CENTRAL AMERICA November 25, 1998
  • DoD News Briefing on Hurricane Mitch Assistance - November 25, 1998 -- Joint Task Force Bravo in Honduras at Soto Cano which was stood up; originally we had about 450 personnel assigned. It's now more than tripled in its strength in terms of personnel, and we've augmented that mission with 34 helicopters and they've flown over 420 missions and delivered over, almost, four million pounds of supplies. A second joint task force, Joint Task Force Aguila, is in El Salvador now. It is not fully operational. It has 540 personnel assigned.
  • UPDATE ON U.S. RELIEF EFFORTS IN CENTRAL AMERICA USAID 24 November 1998 -- In the face of Hurricane Mitch's devastating impact on Central America, the United States government has mounted the largest immediate foreign disaster emergency response in its history.
  • MOVES TO NEXT PHASE OF HURRICANE MITCH RELIEF EFFORT November 19, 1998
  • Gen. Wilhiem's Briefing on U.S. Military Relief Effort for Hurricane Mitch November 19, 1998 --Hurricane Mitch has been categorized as the most destructive storm to hit Central America in more than 200 years. The tally on forces, and this is a very recent recapitulation, the better part of 1,400 troops on the ground right now, 39 helicopters, and 6 fixed wing aircraft, C-130s and C-27s, aircraft that can use the short runways and the unimproved runways in the region.



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