HAST ready and able to help Pacific partners deal with a disaster

Sunday, March 01, 2015

A tsunami hit one of the United States’ Pacific partner nations.

Communication is damaged or completely down. Water supplies have been interrupted. Power is out.

The partner nation government expects many citizens will run out of food within a couple of days. They need help, and they reach out to the United States.

The United States Agency for International Development and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance ask the Department of Defense for assistance, but the disaster just happened and, therefore, what is needed is not yet known.

U.S. Army Pacific and I Corps send word to the 25th Infantry Division Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team (HAST).

On call, and within 24 hours of the alert, the HAST team is in the air and on its way to assess the situation.

A tsunami hasn’t really hit a Pacific nation, but if it did the above scenario could play out just as it’s described, with the 25th Infantry Division HAST team being one of the first relief efforts to enter the area affected by the disaster.

"The HAST team is very crucial in supporting disaster and humanitarian assistance," said Sgt. 1st Class Manolito Woodard, 25th ID, G9 civil affairs, and the HAST A and B teams’ NCOIC.

Adding, "We’re going to be the link between the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance [OFDA] and the military. When the OFDA says: ‘DoD, we need you to provide personnel,’ it goes through the flow from [U.S. Army Pacific] to I Corps.

"Then I Corps might delegate it to us and tag us as the personnel to carry out the mission. In order for 25th ID to be properly fitted for the disaster-affected area, they’ll send an advance team. That will be us."

"The Pacific theater is a ‘disaster supermarket,’ using the words of one of our partner nations," said Lt. Col. Winston Marbella, 25th ID assistant chief of staff, G9 civil affairs, and HAST A team leader.

He added, "It’s not a matter of if it will happen. It’s just a matter of when. We want to be ready to respond and assist our partners during their time of great need. One thing about humanitarian assistance is that it transgresses politics, political sensitivities, and it’s a universal humanitarian requirement that we help each other during times of great need."

U.S. Army Pacific has three units with HAST teams – the 25th Infantry Division, I Corps and the 8th Theater Sustainment Command.

The 25th ID teams recently stood up and successfully conducted validation exercises. HAST A validated in the Philippines and HAST B validated on the Kwajalein Atoll.

"One of Maj. Gen. [Charles] Flynn’s pieces of guidance was to never be late and to be able to fight off the ramp as soon as we land," Marbella said. Flynn is the 25th ID commanding general

Marbella added, "We answered the mail on that one. The HAST A that went to the Philippines was airborne in nine hours and arrived in the simulated disaster area in 21 hours, and began reporting within 24 hours of arrival. When HAST B’s validation came, we erased the challenges by doing the N-hour alert on a weekend, flying via mil air, and going to a ‘communcationally’ expeditionary environment. Kwajalein doesn’t even have cell phones, so we had to rely on our expeditionary comms gear."

The HAST teams are one more way the 25th ID proves to nations throughout the Pacific that they are a force for peace and stability in the region.

"Its greatest significance is portraying to our allied partners that besides combat operations, we are willing and will be there at their time of need during a disaster," Marbella said.

"You cannot surge trust. There has to be continuous communication and training with our partner nations for them to have the confidence that if they call, the United States Army Pacific will be there to assist," he noted.