Our military gets a lot of grief from people all over the world who wish we would just butt out. However, none of them want us to mind our own business when there is a natural disaster, anywhere in the world. The people complaining that the US military has taken on the role of policing the world, don’t seem to acknowledge that a big part of the military budget goes to their role as disaster relief first responders. Interestingly, it is not actually part of the budget. Probably military planners don’t like to allocate funds in the budget to things that may not be needed. They may fear that if there is no disaster and money isn’t spent their budget may be cut the following year. It is in the US’s national security interest to back up governments of countries that are at a disadvantage in confronting natural disasters, through cooperation and joint exercises. It also helps battle anti-American sentiment in the countries that receive help.
When the Batphone Rings
After disasters like the earthquake in Haiti or the more recent tsunami in Japan, the US Navy was able to scramble aircraft carriers and the Air Force sent out their airlift fleet, carrying supplies and manpower, as soon as the international mayday was called in. No foreign aid group has these kinds of resources or can mobilize faster.
In the Pacific
Given the force we have stationed in the Pacific, the US Military is always in a position to make a significant contribution to relief efforts. In the past 15 years, the US military has been a major part of the disaster relief in the Pacific region. Some of the well publicized disasters our forces have attended include:
1998 flooding in Bangladesh
2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia
2005 earthquake in Pakistan
2008 cyclone in Myanmar
2008 earthquake in China
2009 flooding in the Philippines
2010 flooding in Pakistan
In the Americas
SOUTHCOM (United States Southern Command) has participated in 14 humanitarian and disaster relief operations in Latin America and the Caribbean since 2005.
The 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti was President Obama’s first large scale humanitarian crisis and he moved quickly, pledging unwavering support. The quake struck on a Tuesday, by Wednesday the Air Force had secured the airport in Port-au-Prince and had about 5000 soldiers and marines en route to help provide security and support for relief efforts. The aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and the Bataan were underway, and the Coast Guard was already on site.
The US is not the only country which mobilizes it’s military for relief efforts. Canada has a Disaster Assistance Response Team made up of about 200 members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The group is made up of engineers, doctors, nurses and medics, as well as teams in charge of security, logistics and operations. Their primary goal is to provide emergency services, such as medical care and safe drinking water, until long-term aid arrives.
Civilian Foreign Aid
There are many smaller disasters every year that USAID responds to that don’t make headlines, and the military is rarely involved. USAID coordinates the NGOs, the U.N. agencies, UNICEF, and the Red Cross.
Gina Darlington is a dedicated mother and proud wife of an American serviceman. She loves to write and blog about her passions and often covers topics relating to marriage or the use of robotics in the military.
Photo Credit: telemal