MIAMI -- U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) directed the U.S. Navy amphibious ship USS Wasp to the Leeward Islands, where it will support U.S. State Department assistance to U.S. citizens in Dominica, as well as U.S. foreign disaster assistance requested by Caribbean nations impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The ship’s arrival will expand the mission of Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands (JTF-LI), which deployed to San Juan, Puerto Rico Sept. 9 to support U.S. relief operations in St. Martin. To date, the task force has purified more than 22,000 gallons and distributed more than 7,000 gallons of water, delivered nine water purification systems, as well as high-capacity forklifts and vehicles to help the Dutch and French governments offload and distribute aid to the island’s residents.
USS Wasp arrived off the coast of Dominica today with two embarked SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters, bringing the total military helicopters flying missions for the task force to 10.
The task force is scheduled to begin its support to USAID-led assistance to the government of Dominica over the next 24 hours.
The airlift and transport capabilities of amphibious ships make them uniquely suited to support the delivery and distribution of much-needed relief supplies, as well as transport humanitarian assistance personnel in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.
St. Martin and Dominica were both severely impacted by major-category hurricanes, devastating the islands and leaving citizens, as well as visitors, in need of urgent aid.
JTF-LI suspended operations Sept. 18, as Hurricane María approached the Leeward Islands, sheltering personnel and aircraft at Muñiz Air National Guard Base and U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico.
A small element of the task force remained in St. Martin to work with French and Dutch authorities and resume support of relief operations as quickly as conditions allowed.
When requested by USAID, the speed and flexibility of the U.S. military’s logistical capabilities are usually needed most in the critical early stages of a disaster relief operation.
Requests for U.S. military support in St. Martin have declined as U.S. and international relief efforts have progressed and more experienced relief organizations assume an active role in support of the island’s governments.
SOUTHCOM is one of the nation’s six geographically-focused unified commands with responsibility for U.S. military operations in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
Dept. of Defense support to disaster relief operations in the U.S. and its territories, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is provided by U.S. Northern Command, based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.