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Stennis Demonstrates Humanitarian Relief Capabilities

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070611-02
Release Date: 6/11/2007 11:33:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class C. Gethings, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs

USS JOHN C. STENNIS, At Sea (NNS) -- USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) completed a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) exercise involving amphibious, air and medical forces from two strike groups in the Persian Gulf June 5.

Working with Stennis, the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) also participated to build response capability and coordination with another strike group. The exercise was a multi-strike group, first-responder level, crisis-response exercise, and was designed to practice and evaluate the ships’ ability to serve as first-responders after a natural disaster.

“The purpose of the Expeditionary Strike Force operations was to refresh our skills in completing complex missions that required capabilities even broader in scope than Stennis can provide alone,” said Stennis Commanding Officer Capt. Brad Johanson. “From the delivery of emergency medical response from Stennis, to the movement of humanitarian supplies from the Bonhomme Richard via landing craft air cushion, and the repair capability of our Engineering Department and logistical capability of our Supply Department. The exercise was a complete success.”

Specifically, it tested Stennis’ ability to send a rapid flow of personnel and supplies from the ship to an affected area within the first 72 hours, representing recent U.S. Navy assistance for natural disasters during the Indonesia tsunami and relief efforts for the Pakistan earthquake.

“We’re a great airport and command-and-control platform to send and to operate off the coast of a disaster recovery area,” said Lt. Cmdr. Scott Robertson, the exercise coordinator. “We bring a lot of manpower and expertise, and we can distribute plenty of supplies.”

Robertson said another objective of the exercise was to discover some of the aircraft carrier’s limitations when responding to HA/DR operations. On a larger scale, the evolution introduced new insights that could possibly expand the training and operational capabilities of aircraft carriers.

This scenario involved a mock earthquake that struck a fictitious island. Ships in the Bonhomme Richard ESG simulated the island’s key locations: the airport and U.S. embassy. Stennis’ mission was to gather knowledge about the area prior to arriving, send an advance party, medevac injured U.S. citizens at the embassy and begin aiding local citizens. The first team that departed included a liaison officer, senior medical official and ship-to-shore communications personnel.

“In many cases, the initial focus in a natural disaster is medical relief,” said Cmdr. Jonathan Stinson, Stennis’ senior medical officer.

With a ship of about 5,000 personnel, Stennis’ Medical Department has limited ability to support a mass casualty ashore. Since medical relief is often necessary following a natural disaster, Medical Department’s first order would be to establish a level-one medical station. This station is geared toward triaging and stabilizing victims for medical evacuation to a level-two medical facility, such as a hospital or casualty receiving ship. The second priority is to determine what public health threats are likely to arise and take appropriate steps to prevent those from adding to the loss of life.

Following a natural disaster, food and water shortages occur, and Stennis’ Supply Department evaluated its readiness to support the transport of food and water ashore for support personnel and nationals.

“We’d first have to send someone ashore to determine what type of distribution facility we could set up,” said Cmdr. Andy Mueck, the ship’s supply officer. “Having a distribution setup would be key to sustaining all of our personnel assisting in the relief, as well as sustaining casualties, refugees or whoever needed our help on the beach.”

Mueck said Stennis stores enough supplies on board to support a natural disaster relief for the first 72 hours without a problem, but added that if the ship was there longer, orders for supplies would increase, expanding the level of support indefinitely.

“That’s the beauty of having an aircraft carrier — we bring a lot of resources to the table,” Mueck said.

Since aircraft carriers aren’t traditionally tasked with disaster-relief missions, the recent exercise provided a unique opportunity for the ship to improve its response capabilities in the event it’s in the position to assist another country in a crisis. Due to their operational and forward deployed nature, the ability for an aircraft carrier to respond efficiently to HA/DR emergencies would add to its arsenal of capabilities worldwide.

“I think history is starting to show that U.S. Navy assets are first responders to events like this,” said Robertson. “We have presence all over the world, and this is something we should be prepared to do. I think one of the things we’re really looking to do here is pave the way for a carrier strike group to train to be able to respond to disaster relief missions like this.”

Stennis has been deployed since January and entered the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in February. The ship has supported combat missions for Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, maritime operations and is currently participating in the Persian Gulf Expeditionary Strike Force exercise with two other strike groups.

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