HAIKOU, China (Jan. 26, 2015) -- Closing ceremonies for the 10th Disaster Management Exchange, or DME, were held in Haikou on Hainan Island, China, Jan. 18.
The 2015 DME is a U.S.-China humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exchange, which included an expert academic discussion, or EAD, a tabletop exchange, or TTE and a practical field exchange, or PFE. The DME is among the most substantive of U.S. military engagement activities with China.
"This long established exchange underscores the commitment of the U.S. and the People's Republic of China to a comprehensive and strong military-to-military relationship in order to address security cooperation and humanitarian and disaster relief challenges across the region," said Maj. Gen. Edward Dorman, commanding general of 8th Theater Sustainment Command.
Sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific and hosted by China's People's Liberation Army, or PLA, the DME 2015 included participants from the Hawaii Army National Guard, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Air Force and the State Department.
A small team of U.S. military and civilian experts in the field of Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response, or HA/DR, participated in numerous briefings and site visits in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, and Haikou, Hainan Province, to exchange lessons learned, best practices and mitigation efforts.
Some of the site visits included the Guangdong Provincial Meteorological Television Propaganda Center, the Guangzhou Center Observatory, the Provincial Disaster Management Command, materiel stocks and Dashatou Pier.
During the event, the EAD participants also joined a larger team for the TTE and PFE portions of the DME. Approximately 70 U.S. participants and their PLA counterparts examined how they would best be able to respond to a large-scale disaster in a fictional third country. The fictional scenario was based on flooding following a typhoon, a disaster that remains a constant threat in the Asia-Pacific region.
Multinational response efforts occur at the request of the affected nation. Simulating such a request for assistance, TTE participants specializing in civil coordination, planning, rescue operations, and information and logistical support used the United Nations Multinational Coordination Center, or MNCC, construct to work through numerous possible scenarios.
The participants coordinated and synchronized support, dividing up responsibilities and assigning tasks through four stages: initial assessment, multinational HA/DR response, HA/DR activities and transfer to host nation.
The PFE ran concurrently with the TTE, but picked up the simulation of response efforts at the HA/DR activities stage. U.S. and Chinese medical personnel worked to establish a medical treatment area during the PFE. Dozens of tents and medical vehicles were set up to provide for the orderly assessment and treatment of casualties.
Several dozen tents were also set up to provide food and shelter for resettlement of displaced persons, one of the major HA/DR responsibilities of the PLA. This is a significant difference from U.S. HA/DR response which designates resettlement duties to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and numerous nongovernmental organizations. This proved to be one of only a few major differences between the response efforts of both countries.
"We have more similarities than we do differences," said Capt. Melissa Kodani, a medical planner with 18th MEDCOM in Hawaii. "We drew out our roles of care on paper and they are actually pretty much the same."
Language barriers proved less challenging than many would expect as participants worked hands-on in their respective training environments. Improvised sign language and sketches on paper supplemented the interpreters who worked diligently to be everywhere at once. Universal procedures were followed that included wearing masks and booties in sterile surgical environments.
U.S. Coast Guard personnel observed and shared best practices while PLA helicopters and watercraft performed a quick reconnaissance of the damage and a search of the surrounding waters. Numerous water rescues were conducted while a PLA landing craft launched for the disaster site carrying search and rescue, medical and numerous other personnel.
Damage, caused previously by super typhoon Rammasun, which downed trees, damaged buildings and household debris in the exercise area on Hainan Island, provided a realistic platform for the PFE, a realism that was increased by the numerous volunteers, children, livestock and even family pets that were staged throughout the disaster area.
U.S. Marines observed Chinese route clearance techniques and shared their own debris removal best practices, ensuring the medical teams and search and rescue personnel would be working in a safer environment.
Search-and-rescue, or SAR, personnel from the Hawaii Army National Guard worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their Chinese counterparts to extract victims from destroyed buildings amid downed trees and power lines. Medical personnel from 18th Medical Command worked side-by-side with their Chinese counterparts to stabilize injured civilians and prepare them for transport across the waterway to the medical treatment area.
As both the TTE and the PFE concluded, the success of the event was evident in the smiles of the participants, handshakes and mutual pats on the back. The exchange helped U.S. Soldiers, Marines and Airmen increase their understanding and respect for their Chinese counterparts.
"Everyone with whom I have spoken has expressed their pleasure at the remarkable cooperation between our two countries and enjoyment at being part of such a superb opportunity to foster and enhance our relationship," Dorman said.
U.S. Army Pacific, or USARPAC, commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks described the relationship of our two militaries as the foundations for the bridge that is being built between the U.S. and China.
"I am filled with excitement because of what I've seen here during these last two days," Brooks said. "I am certain that I can say with great confidence this has been an outstanding exercise and has built upon the strong foundation built over the last 10 years."
This is the 10th iteration of the DME, an annual security cooperation activity between USARPAC and the PLA. Through the DME, both the U.S. and PRC armies have built a strong and compelling model of cooperation to improve not only the security of our countries and the safety of our citizens, but to enhance the stability of the region.
"In some cases, a Chinese Soldier was in the lead and a U.S. Soldier was in support," Brooks said. "In other, the American was in the lead and the Chinese soldier was in support. In every case, they were learning from one another. This is the true objective: that we respect and learn from one another."
The DME began in 2005 with presentation exchanges between mid-level officers and has expanded with each iteration. In 2012, the first field exchange occurred when the PLA hosted a USARPAC delegation in China (Beijing, Kunming and Chengdu). In 2013, USARPAC hosted the PLA on the island of Oahu, Hawaii; in Washington, D.C.; and in New York City for a more extensive exchange than previous years. The highlight of this year's DME is the utilization of the MNCC during the Practical Field Exchange.
Participating U.S. organizations include U.S. Army Pacific, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 18th Medical Command, Special Operations Command Pacific, U.S. Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, the Hawaii Army National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Marines, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, and other organizations that have a high stake in HA/DR in the Asia-Pacific region.