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Training Opens Eyes to New Ways of Dealing with Natural Disasters

By 1st Lt. Omar Villarreal, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

NGINYANG, Kenya, Aug. 17, 2006 – East African Community nations and U.S. servicemembers are providing medical, veterinary and engineering civil assistance to rural areas in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya as part of Natural Fire 2006, a multilateral training exercise.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Kenyan Army Lt. Hosea Bowen points out a point of reference during a staff planning exercise of a natural disaster scenario played out on a large sand map at Exercise Natural Fire 2006, in Nginyang, Kenya. Photo by Petty Office 2nd Class Roger S. Duncan

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The four countries involved also are using the exercise as an opportunity to discuss strategies that could help many more in the future. The exercise began Aug. 8 and runs through tomorrow.

U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Adam Tharp, Natural Fire joint planning group chief, has conducted classes that offer staff from each country an opportunity to enter a complex situation, such as a natural disaster, and develop a plan to successfully address and solve problems.

“The classes I am teaching are simulating what would go on if a natural disaster occurred in one of the East African Community nations," Tharp said. “The ability to work together, rapidly understand the situation and execute the proposed plan is crucial in an actual disaster."

Ugandan Brig. Gen. David Wakalo, commanding general of the Ugandan contingent during Natural Fire, is a student and advisor in the class. “Time is the enemy when a disaster situation occurs," Wakalo said. “Practicing how to handle a disaster now will allow us to save time when dealing with one in the future."

The general said all participants are using the classroom time to transfer from warfighting to operations other than war, something he sees as important in both building friendships and creating future capabilities.

Kenyan Maj. Patrick Ereng said friendship building and enhancing capabilities is a benefit when countries work together. “The classes offer a great amount of knowledge and bring out the best teamwork," he said. “In the event of a disaster, we will know how to work together and the affected communities will receive the help they require swiftly."

Tharp said the classes are tough, consisting of 25 hours of instruction and 30 hours of practical exercise. “These types of classes allow us to help developing nations build solid professional militaries," he said. “But more so, these types of exchanges help us understand the rest of the world."

(U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Omar Villarreal is assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.)

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