Balikatan 12   HOMEPAGE
U.S. Army Pacific Soldiers participate in disaster relief training in Manila
By Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Bell

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U.S. Army, Pacific, Soldiers from Hawaii and Japan receive a brief from Joint Task Force Homeland Defense in their office at Camp Aguinaldo, Philippines, April 19. They are taking part in a combined-joint command post exercise focusing on combined-force planning and response to a disaster as part of the larger Exercise Balikatan 2012
CAMP AGUINALDO, Philippines (APRIL 23, 2012) -- Soldiers from the U.S. Army Pacific, Contingency Command Post (CCP), I Corps Forward, U.S. Army Japan and Joint Task Force Homeland Defense (JTF-HD) have joined forces to take part in a command post exercise focusing on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief during exercise Balikatan 2012.

The team forms the U.S. Army Forces Component Command, which falls under a combined joint Philippine-U.S. humanitarian assistance task force, which was formed in response to a notional earthquake in Manila.

Soldiers taking part in the CCP belong to disaster assessment teams at their home station -- the Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team (HAST) at USARPAC and Deployable Assessment Team (DAT) at I Corps Forward. Potentially, they would be the first U.S. Army forces on the ground after a disaster.

"This is a critical capability that the Army has in this region," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Samuel Rodriguez, chief of current operations, I Corps Fwd. "It's extremely important for us to get together and learn each other's tactics, techniques and procedures so that we can work more efficiently together."

HASTs and DATs are scalable teams of Soldiers, ranging from seven to 25, all with specific skill sets, who can deploy anywhere in the Pacific within 24-48 hours to assess what the U.S. military can do to assist Pacific nations with disaster relief.

JTF-HD is a U.S. Pacific Command asset that is the executive agent in what is considered the domestic joint-operations area. It includes the state of Hawaii and U.S. territories throughout the Pacific. It provides defense support of civil authorities and forward humanitarian assistance and disaster response capability in support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other agencies.

"We have a breadth and depth of knowledge in defense support of civilian authorities and forward humanitarian assistance and disaster response," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Shane Elkins, chief of operations, JTF-HD. "The Army as a whole brings a tremendous capability, so we want to leverage other capabilities to enhance that."

HAST includes logistics, contracting, civil affairs, engineer, medical, legal, provost marshal, communications, intelligence and public affairs personnel, but also can include other functional areas.

"Teams are built to fit the situation so that we have the right number of people on the ground in order to get the most accurate information back to the commander as soon as possible," said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Derrick Hamilton, the USARPAC HAST noncommissioned officer in charge.

That information is then used to determine what the U.S. military can do to assist with relief operations.

"Training together during this exercise greatly enhances our ability to successfully respond when a real disaster happens," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Sherwin Cruz, I Corps Fwd DAT NCOIC.

"Bringing these organizations together, working in harmony and training together provides a much greater capability," added Elkins. "The HAST and DAT teams bring a tremendous amount of deployability, sustainability and a robust command and control structure."

"Natural disasters (are a common occurrence) in the Pacific and training like this helps us be better prepared to assist our neighbors if they need us," said Cruz.

More than 6,500 Philippine and U.S. service members from throughout the Pacific are participating in the exercise from April 16-27.

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Fire Officer 2 Joely Libutan and FO1 Gladdes Arreco, Special Rescue Unit, Bureau of Fire Protection, National Capital Protection, Philippines discuss disaster preparedness with Lt. Col. Brian Howell, U.S. Army Pacific Contingency Command Post Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team Team Leader and Sgt. 1st Class Cruz U.S. Army Japan (USAR-J), Disaster Assessment Team NCOIC at Camp Aguinaldo, Manila, Philippines, 19 April 2012.
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Sgt. 1st Class Michael Snell, left, a medical sergeant and Sgt. 1st Class Scott Carter, a military policeman, both with I Corps FWD, U.S. Army Japan, at their workstations at Camp Aguinaldo, Manila, Philippines April 23, 2012. They are taking part in a joint-combined command post exercise focusing on joint-force planning and assistance during a disaster as part of the larger exercise Balikatan, an annual exercise held primarily between U.S. and Philippine forces.