Official Highlights Reserves’ Role in Haiti Response
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2010 With the number of U.S. forces in Haiti expected to rise to more than 18,000 in coming days, a top military reserve official yesterday reflected on reservists’ role in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation.
Badly needed C-130 Hercules aircraft belonging to the Air National Guard were among the first planes to fly U.S. humanitarian assistance missions to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince in the wake of the magnitude 7 quake, said Dennis M. McCarthy, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs.
“The most immediate response was Air National Guard personnel and aircraft who were already on duty in support of [U.S. Southern Command] in a standing commitment,” McCarthy said in an interview with the Pentagon Channel. “They were able to respond within hours of the beginning of the Southcom response, and were among the first people into Port-au-Prince.”
Some estimate the quake killed between 100,000 to 200,000 people, and the Red Cross estimates some 3 million people have been affected. As of yesterday, the United States had delivered 1.4 million bottles of water, 700,000 meals and 22,000 pounds of medical equipment, which are being disbursed from some 100 distribution sites.
Soon after the dust settled in Haiti, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recommended that President Barack Obama exercise what’s known as the Presidential Selected Reserve Call-Up Authority. The order provides the president a means to activate, without a declaration of national emergency, certain members of the selected reserve to meet additional requirements if they arise.
On Jan. 16, Obama signed the order, which then permitted the Defense Department to activate reserve-component servicemembers such as reserve medical personnel, to backfill for those deployed aboard the USNS Comfort, and authorized the and Homeland Security Department to activate a Coast Guard unit for port security.
The prerogative largely hasn’t been invoked to tap additional forces for Haiti operations, McCarthy said, but it does provide the department added flexibility.
“Frankly, it hasn’t been used very much yet,” he said, “but it is an authority available to the secretary should he need it later on.”
While the bulk of the reserve contribution has come in the form of C-130s, C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft and helicopters, the reserve components also have contributed to the medical side of the U.S. relief effort.
Medical response is another way the reserve component is contributing. The hospital ship USNS Comfort, for example, has many naval reserve personnel aboard on its humanitarian deployment to Haiti -- “again, supplementing the active component response, not replacing it,” McCarthy said.
Though reserve elements don’t bring to the mission any capabilities that aren’t already present in their active-duty counterparts, McCarthy said, military reserves “thicken” the assets that exist.
“The reserve component is an essential complementary aspect of this all-volunteer force that we’re fortunate to have in the United States,” he said.