United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

DoD News

Bookmark and Share

 News Article

Center Promotes International Cooperation in Disaster

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

HONOLULU, Aug. 16, 1996 – Seventy percent of the world's natural disasters occur in U.S. Pacific Command's area of operations. While the command's primary mission is to train and prepare for war, military leaders here know they must be ready as well to deliver humanitarian assistance.

"Through the year 2005, we anticipate that operations other than war will surpass normal military operations," said Frederick Burkle, director of Pacific Command's Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance.

Drawing on lessons learned from humanitarian operations in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the Pacific Command established the center in October 1994. During these earlier operations, diverse groups -- the military, Red Cross, CARE and United Nations, for example -- struggled to work together and were never fully successful, Burkle said. Fostering cooperation among DoD, foreign governments and international relief agencies, therefore, became a cornerstone of the center of excellence.

The center combines the resources of the Pacific Command, Tripler Army Medical Center and the University of Hawaii. The partnership provides opportunities for training, scholarship and research. In addition, it manages the Pacific Disaster Management Information Network on the World Wide Web.

For the types of operations DoD participates in today, Burkle said, service members need more than a warfighting mentality. "They also need an understanding of international military law, socio-political issues, agriculture, economics and health," he said. "They need to learn how to work alongside nonmilitary agencies who are going to be in there trying to help the civilian populations."

DoD agencies greeted the center with enthusiasm. For example, the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif., asked the center to develop a 10-week module for young officers of the United States and other nations, which began this summer. The center also is working with the University of Hawaii to develop a 10-month master's degree program military officers could easily complete while assigned to the islands.

The master's program will have five competencies -- health, law, development, political science, and anthropology and sociology -- and two subcompetencies -- conflict resolution and negotiations, and disaster epidemiology.

"The Defense Department can't afford to develop a new curriculum for war colleges [that would cover humanitarian assistance missions as thoroughly]," said Burkle, who regularly speaks at the National Defense University and other war colleges. Instead, Hawaii-based officers could complete the master's program and could be called on in the future to provide leadership during humanitarian operations, he added.

In July, the center trained members of the Navy's fleet hospital in Honolulu. In September, it will participate in a conference with the Army War College and Rand Corp., to discuss the role of the reserve components in humanitarian assistance operations. With the active force getting smaller, Burkle said, the reserve components provide much of the manpower and expertise.

Besides training DoD members in operations other than war, the center hosts meetings between disaster response workers from other nations and international organizations. Many of them -- Switzerland-based International Committee for Red Cross, for example -- weren't comfortable associating with military combatants, Burkle said. A major goal of the center of excellence is to enhance the comfort level on both sides.

"We help people break down cultural barriers and learn to work together," Burkle said. In addition to hosting conferences, the center provides a continuous flow of information over its web network, as well as distance learning opportunities and on-site training and education.

Butt the center won't help a country that isn't already helping itself. "We won't get involved unless there's already some degree of self-sufficiency," Burkle said. "Cooperative engagement is the basis for everything we do."

Twenty-two Pacific area nations attended a humanitarian support operations conference here in September 1995. During the conference, participants divided into multinational teams to solve problems associated with fictional disasters. In one exercise, everyone had to enter a "refugee" line, fill out United Nations and Red Cross forms, then dine on humanitarian daily rations. The nonperishable, vegetarian meals meet the taste and religious constraints of multiple cultures. While they ate, they were shown a videotape on how the rations were developed.

"This was a big success," Burkle said. "People who weren't talking before started carrying on conversations -- and they've been communicating ever since."

The conference "kept the goal of humanitarian relief in front of each participant," one conferee reported afterward. "I now understand the role of the military in humanitarian operations," said another.

After the conference, one attendee, Mongolia, asked for help in determining why the Asian nation's livestock is dying at an alarming rate. A team of military and university veterinarians was formed, and plans were made to visit Mongolia late this summer.

"Between 20 percent and 30 percent of the livestock there died last winter," Burkle said. "We think it may be due to the cattle and sheep not having enough fat or a micro-nutrient deficiency disease."

While Pacific Command's immediate concern is helping the Mongolian people with their livestock, the visit and others like it have greater ramifications, said Dr. (Rear Adm.) William J. McDaniel, command surgeon. Providing noncombat military assistance to the developing nations of Asia, he said, opens the doors to greater access.

"The more we work with these countries," McDaniel said, "the less chance there is for misunderstanding or conflict."

Contact Author

Additional Links

Stay Connected