By Tech. Sgt. William FarrowMay 6, 2008
COMALAPA AIR BASE, El Salvador-A forward deployed team of more than 20 Joint Task Force-Bravo Soldiers and Airmen set up shop here May 4 to support a regional disaster relief exercise involving military and civilian agencies from throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Designated Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias 2008, the U.S. Southern Command and Salvadoran Ministry of Defense-sponsored exercise runs May 5-15 and brings together experts in all aspects of disaster planning and operations.
The annual exercise's planners seek regional cooperation in disaster planning and response by allowing participants to test their abilities to render mutual aid between countries, just as they may be called to do in a disaster situation under mutual assistance agreements.
The disaster relief portion of the exercise involves various military and civilian management agencies from Central America and the Caribbean Basin.
"Disaster relief is what we're normally expected to do in Central America-it's our bread and butter-and we're here to help provide assessment to U.S. Southern Command and other assessment teams," said Army Col. Marcus DeOliveira, JTF-Bravo commander.
Although the exercise scenario is built around a devastating earthquake, Colonel DeOliveira said the exercise is a primer for the upcoming hurricane season.
"When disaster strikes, we're in coordination with country teams and governments as they begin coordinating and providing assistance," he said, "this exercise is a great opportunity for JTF-Bravo to partner with U.S. Army South and other participating nations to work through our processes."
Countries participating in this year's exercise include: Antigua/Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.
Upon setting up operations at a Salvadoran Air Force facility, the JTF-Bravo team initialized communications with exercise officials and began preparing for the three-day-long disaster scenario. Upon notification, the team will begin accepting follow-on forces called upon to assist with disaster relief operations.
JTF-Bravo's participation in the disaster relief portion of the exercise revolves around casualty evacuation and medical care, and more JTF-Bravo personnel are due to arrive to support operations as needed.
"We have 19 JTF-Bravo medical element personnel arriving this week to conduct a general medical readiness exercise at a remote village near Comas Aguas, El Salvador," said Air Force Capt. Jennifer Martinez, MEDEL operations officer.
"Participating in this exercise allows our medical personnel to refine our disaster response communications and coordination process with our host nation partners which is vital to joint medical response during natural disasters."
The casualty evacuation operations involving JTF-Bravo's UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters will occur as requests come from the exercise officials.
Following the disaster exercise, participating countries representatives will convene in San Salvador May 11-15 for an after-action review followed by subject matter expert presentations and a trade exposition.