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Monday, September 13, 2010

Pacific Endeavor; improving interoperability and building relationships

by Lt. Theresa Donnelly, Pacific Command Public Affairs

Getting the opportunity to travel overseas is something I always love to do. In fact, being in the military often gives me these chances. However, what is really fulfilling for me is seeing the Pacific Command strategy in action.

This was the case a couple weeks back when I traveled to Singapore to promote Pacific Endeavor, a humanitarian communication workshop with 16 Asia-Pacific nations hosted by the Singapore Armed Forces and U.S. Pacific Command. Held Aug. 16-27, Pacific Endeavor used a real-life scenario (a massive earthquake in metro Manila) to access and document how countries would use communication technologies most effectively during a natural disaster.

Pacific Endeavor demonstrated to me that ideas can start out small and then make a big impact. Let me explain. In 2002, Ricardo Layne was working in the Pacific Command communications directorate (J6) and had the thought that if he could network with military communicators from the Asia-Pacific region, he would increase the military’s ability to rapidly respond to a variety of war fighting contingencies and natural disasters. In 2003, a handful of nations came to Hawaii and held a conference. Although not officially named Pacific Endeavor, the idea was hatched. At first, the conference centered on technical ways to merry up communication technologies among participating nations, but today this mission has greatly expanded.

Now, each year 22 nations are invited (16 attended this year) to what has become an operational workshop under PACOM’s multinational communication interoperability program. The workshop included a real-life scenario and humanitarian organizations and private industry played key roles, demonstrating how they set up communications during a natural disaster.

Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Mongolia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia, Maldives, Brunei and New Zealand are some of the nations that make up this diverse collection of people who came to Singapore for one common purpose – agreed upon communication procedures to save lives in a natural disaster.

What was amazing about this workshop is that it speaks to what the U.S. military is all about – building strategic partnerships with other countries. By understanding one another and how other nations communicate, we prevent misunderstandings and more importantly, I think we can even prevent armed conflicts. With the enormous amount of commerce (about 1.5 trillion dollars yearly) that flows through the Asia-Pacific region through regional trade, it is imperative nations find ways to establish positive relationships. This, in my view, is the only way to ensure long-term regional stability and security. This policy speaks to the heart of why I am proud to serve in the military, specifically at U.S. Pacific Command. Achieving a common operational picture puts every country at the solution to common issues and allows us to share best practices with one another.

With the Asia-Pacific region so prone to weather-related disasters, it only makes sense that we train with other nations on our preplanned disaster responses. Pacific Endeavor lays the ground work for an increased focus for furthering our partnerships. And not only partnerships with other countries, but with non-governmental organizations and private industry. Going forward, my hope is that more countries and NGOs will take part in Pacific Endeavor, as well as more private industry; as they too play a key advisement role in emerging technologies which greatly enhances the communication field. We should also invite other key directorates, such as exercise planning and operations.

So as mentioned earlier, a little idea from one PACOM directorate is now having a big impact. This year, workshop planners employed web 2.0 technologies such as All Partners Access Network (APAN) and used state-of-the-art routers to demonstrate procedures to communicate quickly. Rapid communications in a natural disaster is everything to effective response – it only makes sense that poor set up of a communication infrastructure will cause devastating consequences. It is a true testament to the military’s commitment to effectively preplan that allows programs like Pacific Endeavor to continue.

On an emotional level, life-long friendships are formed and many of the participants have been with the program since its inception. Many people I spoke with at the workshop discussed their loyalty to Pacific Endeavor based not only on the objectives met during the scenario, but on the personal friendships they have formed over the years. One communicator even mentioned his ability to obtain communication clearances in certain countries faster based on his interpersonal relationships.

Every Pacific Endeavor has a cultural day, where attendees tour historical sites, museums, and other well-known locations of the host nation. There are also dinners and other team-building events. Much of what happens in an informal setting increases the dialogue and cooperation with each other.

The military achieves its success by fostering relationships that open the dialogue for increased cooperation and understanding. Working with other government agencies, NGOs, host nation militaries, and private industry is what makes the military stronger. Together we achieve more and can be open to new ideas and innovative technologies. I look forward to having opportunities to promote workshops, such as Pacific Endeavor and am excited to witness the growth of such an important PACOM program


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Personal Perspectives: A Deployment to Southern Philippines

After assigned to Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) for just one week, on Sept. 27, 2009 I found myself standing in the middle of a massive flooding fiasco in metro Manila, surrounding by thousands of desperate people, watching the city rescue units and the Armed Forces of the Philippines bring their loved ones safely out of the rising water.

Homes were engulfed, people were crying out for rescuers to save their families, and all I could do was watch the devastation unfold in front of me.

At this point, most of the city was underwater, engulfed after Tropical Storm Ondoy came through there with a vengeance, wiping out homes, destroying people’s livelihoods, and forcing people to abandon their animals and cherished belongings.

Standing amongst these people at the end of a water-filled bridge in Cainta, with my large NIKON 40D camera and bulky, detachable flash (which I barely knew how to use at the time) wrapped loosely around my neck, I had trouble moving through the crowd of rain-soaked people. I could see debris washed up at the end of the bridge, which dumped into brown, murky water. Belongings floated in the water alongside rescue boats.

Some of those I saw didn’t even have shoes on, and most people’s clothes were soaked with rain and mud. I could only imagine the sorrow they must have felt for everything they had just lost. But I was grateful military troops from my command, a U.S. Navy SEAL team, were there to do their part and help with the on-going crisis.

By the following morning, numerous media reports confirmed that hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless as the death count began to rise. According to the Philippines National Disaster Coordinating Council, more than four million people were affected by the storm and it was responsible for nearly 700 deaths.

What an introduction to what the Navy calls an Individual Augmentee assignment. IAs are active duty and Reserve Sailors and Marines who leave their assigned commands to fill individual billet requirements for various combatant commanders around the world.

Tropical Storm Ondoy was the first time I had ever witnessed, first-hand how the military performs Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR). During that night I was on that bridge, I watched our SEAL team rescue dozens of people from their flood-soaked homes. At around midnight, they managed to pull a pregnant woman in labor from her home and bring her to a waiting ambulance via two F470 Zodiac boats.

This was my first assignment as deputy public affairs officer for JSOTF-P. I ended up writing a story and shooting pictures that night, which later were uploaded to and appeared in multiple national outlets. It was an unforgettable experience and I was proud to serve in an organization that was doing what it could to help all these people.

I served for a six-month deployment in Zamboanga, located in the southern Philippines, working as the deputy Public Affairs Officer (PAO). Working in this capacity was truly an honor and an unforgettable experience.

At the request of the Philippine government, the mission of JSOTF-P is to work with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and local governments to help counter terrorism and improve conditions necessary for economic stability.

How JSOTF-P accomplishes this goal is done in a variety of ways. One method is to hold information exchanges with U.S. troops and the AFP as well as the (PNP). Another approach is through humanitarian construction projects, such as building roads, constructing schools and digging wells.

JSOTF-P also advises and assists with medical outreach missions, via veterinarian, dental, and medical civic action projects.

My job as a PAO was to promote these efforts via press releases, imagery, video, as well as interacting with local media. Then, our team of two PAOs would share these products with Philippine and U.S. audiences via newspapers, social media and local TV coverage.

Our team coordinated closely with the AFP public information officers, as well as public affairs staff from the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines and Special Operations Pacific, located at Camp Smith, Hawaii.

Besides two public affairs officers, we had a staff of two Marine combat camera troops, who greatly assisted with producing the bulk of our video and imagery products.

As a PAO, I had the privilege to travel extensively throughout the southern Philippines. I went to Marawi, Sulu, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi. While on the road, I met some of the most wonderful people. In talking with them, I really got a deep sense of their commitment to aiding in the development of a more peaceful and stable region. Relationship-building with the local community was a key component of a successful tour there.

Our team reported on so many types of events, including school and road turnover ceremonies, visits by congressional delegations, medical and veterinarian missions, Navy Seabee construction projects, and relief efforts like the Tropical Ondoy flooding.

I was continually impressed at the Filipinos’ eagerness to learn new ways of conducting missions. Often, as with many of the medical outreach seminars, the Philippine military forces ran the event with minimal assistance from U.S. troops. Many of the volunteers from the villages and the recipients of the services would be very emotional when asked what these projects meant to them. It was very inspiring to observe so many people served directly by community leaders who have such a vested interest in improving their municipalities.

On all of our medical missions, the Filipino community leaders worked side-by-side with U.S. and Filipino troops. One event stands out in particular was at a veterinarian mission in Marawi when the attendees helped us pull the animals in for vaccines and vitamin treatments. Using two Humvees facing each other so we could hold them in a contained area, the locals would help get the animals to the trucks so they could get the much-needed medications.

There were many times when restraining a huge cow or unruly horse would be a bit of a challenge, but we could always count on the villagers to help us reign them in or at least cheer us on as we gave the treatments. Afterwards, our vet was told many of the previous animals that were malnourished and emaciated would gain weight and be more productive for the farmers.

The Philippine forces were dedicated to learning new things and extremely motivated during the information-sharing seminars.

I also witnessed first-hand the pride and professionalism of the Naval Special Warfare, Army Special Forces and Civil Affairs teams.

U.S. forces at the locations we visited always made sure to facilitate our travel to projects and events. Since they knew the AFP and community leaders who were in charge of the evolution, the teams always introduced us to key officials who could explain on a personal level what a particular project meant to them and the local barangay (neighborhood).

Our team worked extensively with the Zamboanga PNP bomb squad and Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams on many first-responder Improvised Explosive Device (IED) awareness and response seminars. After a few days of classroom instruction, I covered several live-fire detonation exercises, which would teach participants how to safety diffuse an IED.

This experience opened me up to another culture that has so much to offer, with so much to teach us. The people in the Philippines were some of the most humble and gracious people I have ever met.

Whether they were making a scrumptious meal for us, or offering a positive assessment of my karaoke-singing skills (which are nonexistent), they always were so kind to the U.S. forces. I will forever cherish the friendships that I made there.

From a professional standpoint, the job challenged me to think quickly when I needed to speak on behalf of the command and formulate a response consistent with our commanders intent. I was also empowered by my commander to make decisions regarding what events, projects and subject-matter-expert exchanges to promote.

Our public affairs team could also choose which audiences would most benefit from exposure to our products. This level of decision-making ability was extremely satisfying.

Deploying overseas is one of the most rewarding aspects of being in the Navy. Having the chance to serve in the Philippines with JSOTF-P was an invaluable life-changing experience. I am very grateful for the opportunity and look forward to whatever challenges lie ahead in the United States Navy.

Lt.j.g. Theresa Donnelly


Sunday, April 11, 2010

U.S. and Laos Co-Host Multinational Pandemic Influenza Workshop

Major infectious disease outbreaks in Asia are being placed under the microscope during a series of workshops co-hosted by the U.S. and Laos. This multinational "Pandemic Influenza Civil-Military Senior Planners Workshop" from 6-9 April, 2010, included more than 45 civilian and military medical professionals from 12 nations. Participating nations include Cambodia, the Maldives, Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

Part of the discussion included how H1N1 spread so quickly outside of Mexico last year. Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (COE) lead for the pandemic influenza workshop series, Andy Bates, thinks this is "because a local surveillance system was lacking." As a result, Laos presented on its newly instituted pandemic community surveillance network to other countries in the region. Bates thinks this knowledge sharing and collaboration may provide an opportunity to contain an infectious disease before it spreads to the general population. After all, the goal of the four-day workshop involved strategizing to integrate civilian and military resources into contingency planning for major infectious disease outbreaks at the national, provincial, and district level. The COE plans to execute a series of bilateral workshops to take pandemic influenza lessons learned to the community level in several Asia-Pacific countries later this year.

Bates added, "All the countries that were not able to attend [last year's] workshop have been invited to this one. Material from the [that] workshop, as well as additional lessons learned from last year's H1N1 outbreak are being covered."

This workshop is part of the ongoing cooperation by the U.S. Embassy in Laos, the U.S. Department's of Defense's (DoD) Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (COE) on behalf of the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM) with the Lao Ministry of Health, Lao National Emerging Infectious Disease Coordinating Office (NEIDCO) and the People's Army Military Medical Department.

The 2010 multi-event pandemic workshop series is the result of an inter-agency agreement between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

The Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (COE-DMHA) was established by the US Congress in 1994 to facilitate civil-military management in international disaster management and humanitarian assistance. It partners with a wide variety of national and international governmental, non-governmental and international organizations to provide relevant education, training, coordination and research.

COE-DMHA, a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) organization, is a direct reporting unit to the US military's Pacific Command (USPACOM) and is establishing field offices at global Combatant Commands (COCOMs) to promote global disaster preparedness and resiliency.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Big Island hosts USPACOM International Military Lawyer Conference

Today, Pacific Command's 23rd annual Military Operations and Law Conference (MILOPS) wraps up on the Big Island, Hawaii. MILOPS is a yearly meeting of legal professionals from countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region. With 26 nations represented, this year's conference covered a broad spectrum of complex issues facing the Asia-Pacific region from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to counter proliferation to Information Operations and cyber warfare.

While not a legal professional, my leadership gave me the opportunity to attend this year's conference to get a different perspective on the challenges facing our area of responsibility. As a Public Affairs Officer, I routinely work closely with our legal staff to ensure our desire to disseminate accurate and timely information is just that, accurate. The complexity of some of the issues we face in this region are extraordinary. What this "outsider" took great comfort in was the diverse group of committed men and women in attendance. Their passion for their profession and for the region as a whole was palpable.

Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, opened the conference on Monday lauding the participants' dedication to the rule of law and their willingness to come together to discuss difficult legal and policy issues confronting the region. He credited exchanges such as the MILOPS conference for directly affecting the region's readiness to conduct successful operations.

More than 200 attended the conference from Australia, Thailand, India, Loas, Malaysia, Canada, Japan, the UK, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Bangladesh, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Vietnam, Tonga, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Mongolia, Maldives, and of course the United States.

If asked for the most significant take away from this conference, remembering I'm an outsider, it would simply be the resounding theme throughout the week of a need for collaboration between all nations to address myriad complex issues facing the region. There was tacit agreement in all the discussions and panel presentations that to continue to maintain the security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region, nations must work together.

Capt. Matt Hasson


Friday, February 26, 2010

COE Hosts Global Pandemic Influenza Workshops

In the event of a global pandemic, militaries around the world would expect to be called upon by governments to support civilian first-responders. In order to maintain this type of readiness, The Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (COE) plans to conduct pandemic influenza workshops in 11 countries throughout the Asia Pacific region in conjunction with the US military's Pacific Command (USPACOM) and Africa Command (AFRICOM).

From Feb. 24 to 26, initial workshops were held bringing together representatives from Asian-Pacific and African militaries. Workshop delegates were focused on putting together a planning guide for militaries and civilian planners in response to a possible influenza pandemic.

The week-long event was part of a workshop series derived from an agreement between the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Defense (DoD) designed to improve pandemic influenza (PI) response in the Asia-Pacific and African regions .

"This is the most senior multinational event in the USAID / DOD Pandemic Influenza series worldwide, with representatives from Africa, Asia, UN and US DOD," said Andy Bates, COE lead for the PI workshop series.

The primary focus was to facilitate the creation of guidelines by national governments themselves that can be tailored to their respective countries' needs. Civilian and military leaders from more than 23 Asia-Pacific and 16 African participants, representing government organizations, institutes, and their militaries , attended. Key players included the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), the UN World Food Program (WFP), the UN World Health Organization (WHO) the US Joint Task Force Homeland Defense, USAFRICOM and US NORTHCOM from the North American region.

The COE was established by the US Congress in 1994 to facilitate civil-military management in international disaster management and humanitarian assistance. It partners with a wide variety of national and international governmental, non-governmental and international organizations to provide relevant education, training, coordination and research. COE has coordinated and executed pandemic influenza workshops on behalf of USPACOM in the Asia Pacific since 2007.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cobra Gold, Lessons Learned on Disaster Relief

In a DOD Bloggers Roundtable on Feb. 2. Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, discussed the importance of military exercise Cobra Gold.

Cobra Gold is one of the best and most important exercises that we do as
part of
U.S. Pacific
...[it] highlights many of the activities that we do in the
Asia-Pacific region, a region that is extremely important to the United States,
obviously economically, but also from a standpoint of security, peace, and
stability on its effect on the U.S. "
Sponsored by PACOM and the Royal Thai Supreme Command, the three-week exercise started on Monday and includes a command post exercise, a series of medical and engineering civic action projects, and joint and combined field training. Much of the discussion during the DOD Bloggers Roundtable centered around Cobra Gold's history, new and future participants, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief efforts, force protection, and lessons learned.

Lt. Gen. Mixon added, "The exercise is important not only because it is one of the largest--if not the largest--multilateral exercises, but it also involves the first-ever deployment of the contingency command post...we envision this deployable command post to be involved in military operations...such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, peacekeeping and peace enforcement types of operations."

Lt. Gen. Mixon identified a shortfall during humanitarian assistance/disaster relief efforts during the recent natural disasters that struck the Philippines, Indonesia, and American Samoa. "One of the shortfalls that I felt like we had on the Army side was a fairly capable land-based command post that could set up very rapidly, work with the host nation and NGOs and establish communications and control..."

He added, "Lessons learned from my headquarters: Regional cooperation is always we continue to do this training, we will only get better at the ability to respond rapidly and then to work together with all the other governmental agencies that would be involved in disaster relief."

The bloggers present during the DoD Bloggers Roundtable are as follows: Dale Kissinger,; Grim,; Jim Dolbow,; and Shaun Tandon, The full transcript can be found here.


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