Monday, January 18, 2010

U.S. Military Disaster Relief in Haiti

As the world learns the toll of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. military is once again leading the American response to a devastating natural disaster. By the 13th, U.S. Air Force special operations personnel had secured the airport at Port-au-Prince, and about 5,000 soldiers and Marines from the 82nd Airborne Division and 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are on their way to Haiti to assist the UN force there in providing security and support for relief efforts.

At sea, the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and the Bataan amphibious group have arrived, loaded with helicopters to assist the relief effort. Coast Guard cutters and aircraft are already on the scene. Air Force airlifters have brought in personnel and supplies to the island. U.S. Army and Navy helicopters are flying relief drops and critical injury extractions.

Military involvement in disaster relief is nothing new. U.S. Southern Command alone has been involved in 14 disaster relief missions since 2005. More prominent were the post-tsunami relief effort in 2004-05 and earthquake recovery efforts in Pakistan in 2005.

Over the last decade or so, disaster relief has become a core — if rarely acknowledged — mission of the U.S. military. Debates over the future of the military size and funding have concentrated on what sort of enemy the United States might fight in the future. While important, this debate obscures an equally critical role the military plays as the provider of global disaster relief.

For massive disasters like the Haiti earthquake or the tsunami, the U.S. military is the only entity that can organize the necessary air- and sea-lift to get to disaster stricken areas with sufficient relief aid in a quick enough time period. There are no substitutes for the Navy’s aircraft carriers, and the Air Force’s airlift fleet outstrips what’s available for contract.

As you can see, the U.S. military is always; underline that word ‘always’; there when disaster strikes, anywhere in the world. They have the best and fastest supply chain, the largest supply of equipment, and they can put “boots on the ground” within 24 hours anywhere in the world. They also have the doctors, engineers, search and rescue teams, nurses, mechanics, police and support personnel already on payroll and ready to go at a moments notice.

So the next you might be tempted to complain about the size of the defense budget, don’t just think about war. Please think where the people in Haiti would be if they only had civilian relief organizations aiding them. The U.S. military IS the largest relief organization in the world, and I for one am proud of them!

Jeff Henning
Jan 18, 2010


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