We stand ready to respond to crises and contingencies in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. We direct U.S. military response in support of mass migration operations, the evacuation of U.S. citizens abroad, ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal, and humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. Meanwhile, we work year-round to enhance the capabilities of U.S. forces to provide humanitarian assistance and help partner nations strengthen their ability to respond to natural and man-made disasters.
A U.S. Soldier hands out food and water to Haitians Jan. 22, 2010, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, during earthquake relief efforts as part of Operation Unified Response. (Photo by Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock)
Operations for response to mass migration, U.S. citizen evacuations abroad, or natural disasters require us to work closely with the interagency and international partners to ensure rapid, flexible, and decisive conclusions. Our Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief missions and programs support U.S. and regional efforts to save lives, alleviate suffering and enhance security and stability in the region.
Foreign Disaster Relief Efforts
Our disaster relief focus is on responding to reduce human suffering from natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes and help set the stage for long-term recovery.
We are poised to direct U.S. military forces to help a nation in the aftermath of a disaster. Any such mission is in support of U.S. Agency for International Development/Office of U.S Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), which serves as the lead U.S. federal agency for foreign disaster relief efforts. Support must be requested by the host nation. Under our direction, U.S. military forces – and their unique capabilities -- support the comprehensive U.S. government disaster response approach led by USAID/OFDA.
In the past few years, we have commanded U.S. forces numerous times as they helped partner nations in dire need. The most significant recent operation was Operation Unified Response in 2010, which saw Joint Task Force-Haiti lead a force of about 22,000 troops, more than 30 ships and 300 aircraft which provided life saving assistance and delivered/distributed millions of pounds of food and water following a massive earthquake that struck Port au Prince, Haiti.
Humanitarian Assistance Activities
Our Humanitarian Assistance Program manages efforts aimed at improving the capacity of partner nations to respond to humanitarian crises. The program works in concert with other U.S. government agencies that provide assistance in the region. Some of the Humanitarian Assistance Program efforts include providing technical aid and facilitating the construction of disaster relief warehouses, emergency operation centers, shelters, and fire stations.
On a consistent basis, Humanitarian Assistance Program officials at the command’s headquarters are planning, coordinating and facilitating the provision and improvement of emergency response infrastructure and capabilities throughout the region. We also sponsor disaster preparedness exercises, seminars, and conferences aimed at improving the collective ability of the U.S. and partner nations to respond effectively and expeditiously to disasters. This type of multinational disaster preparedness has proven to increase the ability of SOUTHCOM and the U.S. military to work with our partner nations.
Our annual humanitarian and civic assistance exercises include the construction of schools, clinics, and water wells in countries throughout the region. At the same time, medical readiness exercises involving teams consisting of doctors, nurses and dentists also provide general and specialized clinical and public health services, in addition to veterinary services, to host nation citizens requiring care. These humanitarian assistance exercises provide services and infrastructure to communities in need while providing training for both deployed U.S. military units and host nation forces. These exercises generally take place in rural, areas and are coordinated with the host nation and other U.S. government agencies.
Health care-specific efforts, like the Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETEs) and Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP), are conducted by small U.S. military medical teams in multiple partner nations dozens of times a year. These training events enhance the readiness of U.S. military medical forces, provide free medical treatments to communities and attempt to improve the overall level of care of the host nation healthcare system. Every year, these medical exercises provide care to tens of thousands of people.