Fort Sill, Altus AFB practice humanitarian relief support
September 8, 2011
ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Mr. Smith wakes up and jumps out of bed. He was woken up by the violent shaking of his house and the screams of his two children in the other room. An earthquake is tossing pictures off the walls, moving furniture from one end of a room to the other. He frantically attempts to run from his room to get to his children, but he is pushed back by the force of the trembling house. He finally reaches his children after what seems like a lifetime and budges them from their beds to the empty closet. The family is rescued a few days later.
This is a real threat for many families. Thanks to a recent joint humanitarian relief preparation exercise, military members are trained and equipped to support the safety, security and survival needs of an area that has experienced a natural disaster.
The Army and Air Force teamed up to train on providing humanitarian relief support.
The joint force included Fort Sill's 168th Brigade Support Battalion, and Altus' units the 97th Operations Support Squadron and the 58th Airlift Squadron, which loaded the Army's Rapid Response Package onto a C-17 Globemaster III. About 50 Soldiers trained Aug. 30.
"The support provided by the Air Force ensures the Army can get its Soldiers and equipment where they need to be," said Lt. Col. M. David Waddell, 168th BSB commander. "Joint training with the Air Force is critical to our ability to react quickly to any type of global contingency."
Hands-on exercises help prepare military units for global contingencies, whether they are caused by conflicts or natural disasters. The goal is to provide support to areas under stress as quickly as possible.
"Quick planning is essential to saving people's lives, and in a humanitarian relief operation, the first day and the first three days are critical windows to get food and water to people and get them medical attention," said Capt. Andrew Patrick, 58th AS pilot.
For this exercise, 12 vehicles and six trailers of vital equipment were part of the Army's Rapid Response Package. The trailers contained equipment and supplies for infrastructure, communications and basic survival.
"We are verifying a capability with an Army unit that is preparing to stand by to support humanitarian relief efforts, and this is our verification that we can support what their requirements are if a humanitarian operation is identified that we need to participate in," Patrick said. "Will their equipment fit on our aircraft? Is our aircraft suitable to their needs? Can we execute a worldwide mission to support humanitarian relief?"
The joint exercise scenario entailed an 8.0 magnitude earthquake that shook the island of Jamaica. The epicenter of the earthquake was just outside Kingston, the capital city, which created a humanitarian crisis in the region. The 168th BSB had a 15-day deployment timeline for the entire exercise. The portion of training that was conducted here took about one day.
The Soldiers on- and off-loaded the assets about five times to demonstrate five aircraft going into the area of responsibility. After unloading each time, Soldiers would return to Fort Sill to set up the tactical operations center as though they had landed in Jamaica.
"As always, it is a pleasure working with the Army," said Staff Sgt. Kyle Roen, 58th AS load master, who instructed the Soldiers on how to properly load vehicles and equipment onto a C-17. "The skills they learned during the loading practice will greatly improve their ability to assist during an actual disaster response."
This was the first time many of the Soldiers had been on an Air Force flight line and aircraft, and Waddell hopes they'll get the chance to do it more often.
Ideally, the commander said he'd like to have his unit conduct training in conjunction with the 97th OSS semi-annually.