By Maj. Cesar H. Santiago, Special Operations Command SouthSeptember 20, 2017
A Special Operations Command South situational assessment team departed Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Sept. 9, 2017, in support of Joint Task Force -- Leeward Islands' (JTF-LI) aid response to areas affected by Hurricane Irma in the eastern Caribbean Sea.
At the direction of U.S. Southern Command's commander, SOCSOUTH members provided situational awareness to military forces and other U.S. government agencies, and facilitated the formation of JTF-LI, while supporting the island of St. Martin's government in determining resident needs.
The team, comprised of U.S. Special Operations Forces members, provided unique military occupational specialty skill-sets needed in initial response and recovery efforts.
"The team's response was essential in preparing the launch of disaster relief efforts," said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Collin P. Green, SOCSOUTH commander. "They quickly established the initial command and control point, communications systems, and began assessing on-the-ground conditions in an environment with limited or no infrastructure or basic services."
SOCSOUTH's response team, together with U.S. State Department and Air Force Special Operations Command members, coordinated the evacuation of hundreds of American citizens off the island. Up to now, JTF-LI has helped evacuate more than 2,000 citizens from the affected area.
Additionally, the team assessed infrastructure, airfields, and sea ports to facilitate the movement of assets to bolster response capabilities.
"Initial actions upon arrival by the logistics team rapidly turned into coordinating efforts as logistical integrators," said U.S. Army Maj. Javier Pla, SOCSOUTH's logistics operational division chief, who served as the senior logistician for USSOUTHCOM. "We assisted the interagency partners and local authorities to synchronize our support in an environment of constraints in the most effective and expeditious way possible."
"Right now our efforts are focused on supporting the task force and, through our rapid response team, quickly providing the necessary assistance to those affected," said Pla, who is continually planning sustainment distribution around the clock. "This logistical coordination is needed to save lives and reduce human suffering in areas devastated by the hurricane."
"Our members are always ready to bring unique capabilities to assist partner nation governments," said SOCSOUTH's commander.
SOCSOUTH is responsible for all USSOF activities in the Caribbean, and Central and South America and serves as a component for U.S. Special Operations Command and USSOUTHCOM.
USSOUTHCOM created JTF-LI, an organization composed of about 300 Airmen, Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers to provide aid to the people of St. Martin at the request of the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.