More than half the people in the world call the Pacific region home, and history reflects extremely high odds that each of their lives will be impacted in some way by a natural disaster. Typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones, floods and mudslides characterize the region’s past and realistically loom over its future, creating a constant need for readiness and partnership across the massive theater.
“At the most basic level we’re all humans, and we want to be prepared and able to help other humans in distress,” said Col. John Ellis, the officer in charge of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command’s newly-formed Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team.
Ellis joined the HAST’s primary and alternate members for a validation exercise here June 2-6, to assess the team’s ability to self-sufficiently deploy, and survey and facilitate requested humanitarian assistance throughout the region within 12-24 hours of notification.
The exercise’s immediate goal was to prepare the team for its first three-month rotation as U.S. Army Pacific’s primary on-call HAST element, but the week’s natural disaster response scenario also allowed the TSC to work its Early Entry Command Post infrastructure and expeditionary capabilities.
Although designed to be small with no more than 20 personnel, the team still offers full-spectrum expertise in communications, intelligence, medical, logistics planning, public affairs, aviation, ordnance, contracting, operations, protection, engineering, military police, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear situations.
If a country in the region requires humanitarian assistance and/or disaster relief efforts, and its government requests help through the U.S. embassy and the U.S. Agency for International Development, those organizations may turn to the military for specific needs, Ellis said.
“8th TSC is equipped with unique capabilities that could prove critical in assisting to ease human pain and suffering, and help restore and improve conditions to our neighbors in the Pacific in these situations,” he said. “We’re in a premiere position to respond, and the HAST is tailorable and can adapt.”
During the five-day event, the group received a request to provide support in the aftermath of a fictional earthquake in Indonesia. Members conducted alert and recall procedures and completed individual Soldier Readiness Processing. A separate push-element, made up of Soldiers from the 8th Special Troops Battalion, simultaneously loaded the team’s prepositioned equipment at Fort Shafter Flats for movement to Schofield Barracks’ Leaders Field where the HAST members set up their own command post, established a communication network, and conducted three-days of simulated surveys and assessments related to the scenario.
Lt. Col. Michael Post, the team’s operations lead, said that while the real-world request may call for just a few of our members, the modular capability of the TSC’s EECP infrastructure allows for an agile mission command that can support up to 30 personnel with immediate life-support, workspace and communication assets to reach back to USARPAC or the TSC.
“It all fits onto a C-17, to include vehicles and containers that house our tents and communication equipment,” he said. “But self-sufficiency means nobody gets to sit back and watch. We all work. We all have to be trained on everything from operating the vehicles and generators and actually setting up the tents, to understanding the larger picture of the mission we fulfill as a HAST.”
He said that perhaps just as importantly, the time together allowed them to get to know each other and learn what every member brings to the team.
“The reality is that starting July 1, we may have to deploy into an austere and unpredictable situation, and in order to focus on helping others, we have to first know that we can trust each other,” he said. “This week served as our validation to ourselves as a team and also allows us to report back to USARPAC that we are ready and able to respond quickly and play our part.”
While on-call, the HAST members will continue to conduct their primary missions with the 8th TSC, the Army's senior logistics command in the Pacific.