When it comes to stateside natural disasters, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support is no stranger to being relied upon for its services in times of need.
But internationally, the processes and expectations aren’t the same. When a tsunami hits a country in the Pacific Ocean, a hurricane sweeps across an island in the Caribbean, or humanitarian assistance is needed in Africa, U.S. government agencies face different roles and responsibilities than what is familiar stateside.
Knowing these differences exist, DLA Troop Support reached out to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. leading agency for international disaster response, for help understanding their role when disaster strikes abroad.
Troop Support hosted the Joint Humanitarian Operations Course led by the USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in Philadelphia Nov. 13-14 informing employees on international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief processes and ways to improve collaboration with government and civilian partners.
Dorothy O’Connell, a Troop Support J3/5 customer support liaison, said the course was important because of how often the organization works alongside its federal partners for relief efforts.
She said that through various roles like liaisons working with partner agencies, deployment rotations at overseas locations and personnel assigned to DLA’s Agency Synchronization Operations Center, Troop Support teams work closely with Whole of Government partners in providing international aide.
The JHOC brings another element of improving readiness in support of international operations.
“Troop Support has provided both domestic and international humanitarian assistance to not only major natural disaster events, but also assistance to things such as the Syrian refugee crisis, Ebola crisis in Africa and, most recently, Hurricane Dorian,” O’Connell said. “Although Troop Support did not provide any material [to USAID] for Dorian, as Whole of Government partners, Troop Support participated in the daily logistics teleconferences led by OFDA and stayed involved in the efforts.”
The two-day course used interactive presentations, discussion groups and case-study methodology to discuss the relationships of the participating organizations and help prepare attendees for the collaborative work environment.
O’Connell said five Federal Emergency Management Agency Region II employees attended, along with 28 Troop Support employees, in an effort to keep Whole of Government partners aware of other missions.
“The JHOC drills into the operational, strategic and tactical level of OFDA and [Department of Defense] coordination,” said Nina Kessler, an OFDA humanitarian assistance advisor. “It is critical that all actors have a better understanding of roles and responsibilities for the Whole of Government effort in increasingly complicated disaster relief operations.”
Kessler said OFDA responds to about 65 disasters a year in more than 50 countries. By attending the JHOC, partners develop an understanding of OFDA's role and recognize how their own agencies can best contribute, which leads to a well-coordinated overall effort with maximized support.
“Having a coordinated response is essential to saving lives, alleviating suffering, and reducing the social and economic impact of a disaster,” Kessler said. “The quickest way to ensuring a successful response is to have a [partnership] that is communicating and coordinating.”
In recent years, Troop Support assisted USAID operations by delivering survival items to displaced people from Syria, providing protective gear for the Ebola crisis in Africa and providing natural disaster support items, like the near-support with Hurricane Dorian.
The JHOC was created in 2004 to establish a formal learning environment for military leaders and planners to discuss the relationship between OFDA, its partners and the military, while also preparing participants to work collaboratively during humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations, according to Kessler.
O’Connell said that moving forward, Troop Support plans on hosting the JHOC semi-annually with more Whole of Government participation to keep partners informed on how organizations support OFDA operations.
Interested employees can attend the JHOC by having their supervisors submit their names during DLA Troop Support J3/5’s Call for Nominations.