Whether natural or man-made, disasters can happen anytime -- anywhere.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance is an agency that deals with deadly disasters worldwide. With global logistics and transportation capabilities, the U.S. military often assists in USAID disaster relief operations.
Angela Sherbenou, USAID senior humanitarian adviser at U.S. Army Africa Command, gave 29 U.S. Army Africa Soldiers and civilians the low-down on Joint Humanitarian Operations (JHOC), May 14-15.
"This program was created at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense," said Sherbenou. "The reason being, it's not a question of if….it's a question of when will we work together during disaster relief operations. That's why it's a joint operations course."
She said the course definitively explains when military assistance is necessary during foreign disasters responses.
"The biggest takeaway for students is who does what, when and where during a disaster relief situation," Sherbenou, a native of Houston, Texas said. "The U.S. military often has the capability to help, but it doesn't necessarily mean they should respond. This course helps delineate when military responses for disasters are required and how to work with civilian agencies; specifically USAID."
Master Sgt. Jim Brower, USARAF's G-37, training section explains the significance of the JHOCs.
"If an earthquake, flood or some other type of disaster takes place on the African continent, this course gives students the tools to work with USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. It's a course that explains exactly how and what the USAID OFDA does during disasters in foreign countries. The course is excellent for planners and logistics personnel. Additionally, and importantly, the course gives us USAID points of contact located in different countries," Brower said.
During the course students covered a variety of subjects that tie USAID and military together during disaster/humanitarian relief incidents. Some of the subjects covered were: Roles of Mission Disaster Relief Officer; and Accountability and Coordination with Department of Defense during Disaster Response.
For USARAF G-4 Logistics Planner Randy Austin, the course proved beneficial.
"As a USARAF logistician, I'm taking away a tremendous amount of information from this course," said Austin, a resident of Adrian, Mich. "During a disaster relief or humanitarian operation, it's important to know the capabilities of all the players and agencies and the most optimal way they can work together. This course gives us the information to put together a winning team."
Sherbenou said the course can be useful to a broad spectrum of employees.
"Although the course is particularly helpful for planners and logisticians, it is for anyone who could possibly be part of a humanitarian operation," Sherbenou said. "We normally have representation from surgeons and lawyers to communications and civil affairs," she said.
Capt. Sean Donohue, USARAF Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion surgeon, attended the course.
"It's great to get some hands-on time with USAID. Understanding the nuts and bolts of how they work and how the agency deals with certain aspects of medicine is very empowering," Donohue said. "For me, the most significant learning objective of the course is developing an understanding of the relationships and roles between USAID, Department of State and USARAF during a joint humanitarian operation -- that was one of the most enlightening portions of the course," he said.
Donohue said another highlight of the course was specific to his job as a health care professional.
"As a medical practitioner and from a disease prevention aspect, I was particularly interested in Cholera outbreaks and other secondary disease effects from disasters," Donohue said. "The course was very specific on planning for what we need to have on the ground first during a disaster so that secondary effects are minimized," he said.
JHOC emphasizes learning from past disaster relief efforts and gives students the opportunity to show their course competency through participation in hands-on exercises and evaluations of historical disaster relief operations.
"Reviewing case studies offered key insights on where there have been gaps in previous operations. We've learned where we can improve and not repeat some of the errors of the past," Donohue said.
Sherbenou, who also goes by the moniker of "Disaster Girl", knows the course information backward and forward, as she is one of the original curriculum designers. She added that JHOC is an accredited DoD Joint Staff J-7 course and participants can receive .5 professional military continuing education credits for successful completion of the course.