Humanitarian course keeps Troop Support employees ready for USAID operations

By Shaun Eagan DLA Troop Support Public Affairs

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Whether helping a country in the Pacific Ocean recover from a typhoon, providing food kits and survival items to people in the Middle East or supporting efforts to contain a virus outbreak in Africa, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support has an active role in the U.S. government’s international response efforts.

However, just because humanitarian assistance or disaster relief is needed, it does not mean DLA Troop Support can begin implementing logistics right away.

With much to learn about these support operations, DLA Troop Support reached out to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. government lead for international disaster response, to keep its teams informed about the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief process and ways to improve collaboration with government and civilian partners.

For the first time ever, DLA Troop Support hosted the Joint Humanitarian Operations Course led by the USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in Philadelphia April 2-3.

Dorothy O’Connell, a DLA Troop Support J3/5 customer support liaison, said the JHOC was important because of the organization’s support to worldwide relief operations

“It was important for DLA Troop Support personnel to participate in the JHOC since [DLA Troop Support] is heavily involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief both state-side and globally,” O’Connell said. “DLA Troop Support has permanent field offices in [U.S. Central Command], [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command], [U.S. European Command] and [U.S. Africa Command]. In addition, DLA Troop Support has four personnel forward deployed, four rotational assignments and two expeditionary positions.”

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.

Approximately 36 employees from across the supply chains and staff offices attended.

“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,” Elizabeth Smithwick, a USAID OFDA humanitarian assistance advisor, said. “The role of OFDA as the lead federal agency for international disaster response relief is well-defined. Assisting other agencies in their efforts to understand OFDA's role and how their own agencies can best contribute their support allows the overall [U.S. government] effort to be well-coordinated and maximizes the support we bring to the response.”

Smithwick said the course also teaches attendees about the formal systems in place for international responses, structures and policies, best practices and the military’s role when supporting international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

For DLA Troop Support, the JHOC was especially relevant given the organization’s involvement in procuring items for recent operations such as delivering millions of survival items to displaced people from Syria, supporting relief efforts for the Ebola crisis in Africa and providing natural disaster support items.  

The JHOC was created in 2004 to establish a formal learning environment for military leaders and planners in operations, logistics, communications, medical, planning and civil affairs roles to discuss how government agencies collaborate during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, according to Smithwick. 

O’Connell hopes the course keeps the Troop Support teams informed as the organization continues working with USAID OFDA in support of these operations.

“We hope DLA Troop Support personnel now understands the political and logistical implications in support of OFDA led humanitarian missions, the levels of coordination that must take place and the funding streams that must be in place,” O’Connell said.