COMALAPA AIR BASE, El Salvador - Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias (FA-Hum) 2008, a regional disaster-relief operation co-sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense, started here Monday with the theme "Connected for good; regional response and integration."

Designed to enhance civil-military cooperation and build humanitarian-assistance capabilities throughout the Western Hemisphere, the operation is planned and executed by U.S. Army South.

The annual event centers on inter-agency cooperation between various military and civilian management entities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to develop and improve regional information-sharing capabilities and conduct humanitarian response and disaster assistance in the event of a catastrophic occurrence.

"We are a Rapid Deployment Command and Control Element," says Maj. Tom Martin, the U.S. Army South planner for FA-Hum 08. "As part of the FA-Hum operation, we were able to quickly deploy our team, set up, and take over command-and-controlling other military units that are here in support of the disaster operations."

At the heart of the command center is the Small Command and Control Internet Protocol, or SC2IP, a sophisticated satellite internet data system designed to link all participating agencies into a network of communication and data sharing.

Spc. Jason Fisher of the 56th Signal Battalion, Forward Detachment, worked tirelessly with his team to get the system set up and running in time for the start of the operation, facing numerous challenges along the way.

"We brought 13 cases [of equipment] ranging in weight from 50 to 100 pounds," says Fisher. "Customs was pretty interesting; all kinds of cases all over the place as we were getting them off the conveyer belt. Then we received some incorrect configuration files that we had to work through. But we overcame these obstacles and were able to get the systems up."

The operation also includes aviation, logistical and medical teams from Joint Task Force Bravo, a U.S. Defense Department task force based in Honduras, designed to assist partner nations and respond to threats throughout Latin America. The task force performs aerial casualty evacuation and medical assistance during the disaster-relief portion of the operation.

"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," says Air Force Capt. Jennifer Martinez, a medical operations officer.

FA-Hum 2008 will conclude in San Salvador May 15 with all leaders convening for a comprehensive after action review and presentations from disaster experts.