U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) is completing the first phase of its three-phased relief operations in Central America and will begin the second phase of the operation Nov. 26.
"The second phase of relief efforts will focus on rehabilitating essential infrastructure throughout the region to reestablish national capabilities to provide for health and basic welfare of the populace, including opening and clearing main roads, rebuilding main bridges, restoring power generation capabilities, digging wells, providing medical support, and rebuilding key structures," said Marine Corps Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, Commander in Chief, USSOUTHCOM, during a press briefing given to the media at the Pentagon today.
Wilhelm said that during the first phase, which started in late October in the face of severe weather and environmental conditions, the U.S. military established forward logistics and command and control points in the disaster area to support life-saving search and rescue operations as well as deliver emergency supplies and medical assistance to survivors in outlying regions stranded by flood waters and devastated infrastructure.
To conduct these operations, USSOUTHCOM deployed to the disaster area 39 rotary and six fixed wing aircraft together with a Naval Special Operations unit stationed in Panama, equipped with ten Zodiac rubber inflatable boats for personnel rescue. During phase one, U.S. military aircraft in the disaster area have logged more than 1,000 flight hours rescuing more than 700 people, and delivering more than 2,536,000 pounds of food, 94,500 pounds of medical supplies, 69,700 gallons of water, as well as fuel, plastic sheeting, wood, blankets, and other needed supplies. The cost of the first phase is estimated at $35 million.
During the first phase, the airlift for supplies and personnel to intermediate supply points within the region was provided largely by U.S. Reserve components. U.S. Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, and Naval Reserve flew more than 56 humanitarian support flights transporting more than 780 tons of cargo. Air National Guard aircraft assigned to Howard Air Force Base, Panama, completed more than 100 relief flights with more than 620 tons of relief supplies and 475 passengers.
Reserve component air units have also transported to the region more than two million pounds of relief supplies donated by private citizens under the Denton Program.
To support the second phase, the Department of Defense will more than quadruple the number of personnel deployed to the region from approximately 1,300 to more than 5,600. It will also expand the number of helicopters from 39 to 59. Starting this week, a military support package that will include 16 helicopters, as well as engineering and bridging units, medical detachments, a field hospital, and water purification systems, will begin deploying to the area.
The following active component units are either in the region or have deployment orders to Central America for the build up to support relief efforts associated with Hurricane Mitch:
II Marine Expeditionary Force, Elements, Cherry Point and Camp LeJeune, N.C.
Marine Corps 2nd Force Service Support Group, Cherry Point and Camp LeJeune, N.C.
Marine Corps 8th Engineer Support Battalion, Camp LeJeune, N.C.
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7 (SEABEES), Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, and Gulfport, Miss.
Army 1st Corps Support Command, 18th Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C.
Army 539th Corps Support Group, Fort Lewis, Wash.
Air Force 819th Civil Engineering Squadron (Red Horse), Malmstrom, Mont.
Air Force 820th Civil Engineering Squadron (Red Horse), Nellis AFB, Nev.
Army 55th Engineer Company, Fort Riley, Ks. (Medium Girder Bridge)
Army 46th Engineer Battalion, Fort Polk, La.
Army Headquarters, 36th Engineer Group, Fort Benning, Ga.
Army 63rd Combat Support Equipment Company, Fort Benning, Ga.
Army 68th Combat Support Equipment Company, Fort Hood, Texas.
In addition, a large number of guard and reserve units have been committed to the operation and others will be committed in the future.
The third phase of relief operations will support international efforts to restore the overall infrastructure of the affected nations. The estimated duration of phase three and estimates of cost will be made at a later date as the success of second phase relief efforts are evaluated.