DLA Rapid Deployment Team leads agency in support for Haiti relief

By John Bell

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A Defense Logistics Agency Rapid Deployment Team and personnel from across the agency recently deployed to Haiti to provide a range of services, supplies, expertise and infrastructure as the agency assists in disaster relief following Hurricane Matthew.

The RDT, part of DLA Logistics Operations, is working with DLA Aviation, DLA Energy, DLA Troop Support, DLA Distribution and DLA Information Operations to improve the infrastructure in Haiti and speed the delivery of food, water and supplies to people displaced from their homes — as well as fuel and construction materials to relief groups. The combined group is known as Joint Task Force Matthew.

For JTF Matthew, the RDT started work on the ground in Haiti 48 hours after the agency was formally asked to help in the relief effort.

At Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, the RDT worked with a DLA Troop Support vendor to quickly build landing and takeoff pads for CH-47 helicopters used to receive emergency food and equipment and distribute it to relief camps and nongovernmental organizations. Read more about the work of DLA Troop Support in Hurricane Matthew relief here.

“The new helo pads improved relief operations’ safety and efficiency,” said Navy Capt. Paul Haslam, commander of the RDT for JTF Matthew. Earlier in the operation, congestion at the airport caused the rotor of one helicopter to strike a light pole, grounding the aircraft.

Building the new pad alleviated the congestion on the airport's west tarmac, said Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Emilio Natalio with the 1st Battalion, 228th Regiment. “We had CH-47s, C-130s and commercial aircraft taxiing and being loaded in close proximity. It’s much safer now.”

The new location, being closer to the fuel-storage tanks, has also helped speed the loading and delivery of aircraft fuel, he noted — as have the RDT’s efforts to enhance communication with the fuel vendor and commercial flight traffic in the area.

In addition to aviation fuel, the team is coordinating the delivery of diesel fuel for generators and construction equipment. More on DLA Energy’s support for Hurricane Matthew relief can be found in this recent article.

In addition, DLA Distribution is coordinating detailed shipment instructions specific to Haiti to ensure prompt delivery of materiel. One example is the shipment of mission-critical repair parts for the Halvorsen 25K cargo loader — a large, wheeled flatbed vehicle — as well as insect repellant and sunscreen provided by DLA Aviation. DLA Distribution, working with the RDT, is tracking all shipments to delivery.

The Contingency Information Technology Division of DLA Information Operations is playing a critical role in supporting the RDT and the JTF-Matthew mission. The CIT Division has provided a secure satellite link back to the enterprise network, voice-over-internet phones, satellite phones, wireless hotspots, printing and other capabilities.

“DLA’s [IT] support was absolutely critical to our mission,” said Army Capt. Adam Grover, commander of the 689th Rapid Port Opening Element. His unit deployed with a smaller support package but was able to use the IT package from DLA’s CIT Division. “It really helped our mission,” Grover said.

Water is also a critical need DLA is helping with, Haslam said. In a disaster area, potable water must be conserved and used only for drinking when possible. The RDT used its expeditionary contracting authority to secure daily delivery of 3,000 gallons of non-potable water to wash aircraft and provide sanitation for JTF-Matthew headquarters.  

The work of the RDT in this real-world event shows the value of the training the RDTs hone via exercises throughout the year, Haslam noted. DLA maintains three RDTs, which alternate being on standby for real-world events and participating in training and a full backup team. See this recent article from Loglines magazine for more information on the RDTs and their work.

Each RDT comprises a commander, an expeditionary contracting officer, a contingency IT specialist for communications, and a fourth member determined by the mission — in this case, a distribution liaison officer.

As the relief effort continues in the hurricane’s aftermath, the teams will expand their work to contain an emerging outbreak of cholera, Haslam said — aided by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived on the scene several days after the DLA personnel.

“This project was a resounding success for JTF-Matthew and a demonstration of agile DLA support in a contingency,” said Haslam.