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Pacific Partnership 2017 Shifts Focuses To Humanitarian Aide/Disaster Relief

Navy News Service

Story Number: NNS170314-09
Release Date: 3/14/2017 11:45:00 AM

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Micah Blechner, Pacific Partnership Public Affairs

HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka (NNS) -- Members of the United States armed forces and Sri Lankan Air Force and Navy exchanged best practices and lessons learned during a first-ever, bilateral Humanitarian Aide/Disaster Relief Symposium during a critical Pacific Partnership 2017 Sri Lanka evolution at the Magam Ruhunupura International Convention Center in Hambantota, Sri Lanka March 13.

This symposium, led by the Sri Lankan Navy, 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.

"Participating in forums like this are of huge value to the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy and Department of Defense as a whole," said U.S. Marines Capt. Nathan Jensen. "Discussing, coordinating, and practicing humanitarian aide operation with nations throughout South and South-East 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 who 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," said Jensen.

Three pillars of disaster relief were established early in the symposium: immediate engineering needs (i.e. 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 (State Department and other NGOs).

"Our biggest hurdle as humanitarian aide planners has got to be access," said Maj. Charles Hunt, Marine 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," said Hunt. "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."

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 on Thursday, March 16 when all players will participate in a Field Training Exercise on the beaches of Hambantota.

"It has been on of the great honors of my career to be able to come and work with my colleagues here in Sri Lanka," said Jensen. "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," explained Hunt. "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."

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

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