WHINSEC hosts Disaster Response Symposium

Panel members answer questions during the at the 3-day symposium on disaster awareness, Fort Benning, Ga., Apr 4. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Charon Camarasa)

Panel members answer questions during a three-day disaster response symposium hosted by the Western Hemisphere for Security Cooperation on Fort Benning, Ga. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Charon Camarasa)

By Maj. Charon Camarasa, CGSOC student at WHINSEC /

FORT BENNING, Ga. –The Army Command and General Staff Officer Course of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation recently hosted a conference aimed at increasing students’ competencies when coordinating resources during disaster response operations.

WHINSEC invited international students from various regional Spanish-speaking countries to attend the integrated CGSOC year-long course at Fort Benning to train side-by-side with their U.S. Army counterparts on military doctrine, history, human rights, and senior officer leadership development.

Colombian Army Lieutenant Colonel Nelson Maje, CGSOC student, speaks about his positive impression about U.S. response and collaboration efforts to assist in disaster operations, at the 3-day panel, Fort Benning, Ga., Apr 4. 2017 (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Charon Camarasa)

Colombian Army Lt. Col. Nelson Maje, CGSOC student, spoke about his positive impressions of U.S. response and collaboration efforts to assist in disaster operations during a Disaster Response Symposium held in April on Fort Benning, Ga. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Charon Camarasa)

The panel represented multiple organizations to include current and former key leaders from the Louisiana National Guard, U.S. Southern Command, and state department personnel who were on site during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The experts answered questions from students on planning procedures, lessons learned, and described the challenges with inter-agency communication, information sharing and logistics relating to the deployment of military and civilian personnel to help the victims.

The agenda included presentations on topics such as civil military assistance, a Haiti disaster case study, Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA) and Humanitarian Assistance / Disaster Response (HADR) operations.

Some of the WHINSEC students found the Haiti response case study to be intriguing and shared their thoughts and intimate knowledge of emergency response operations.

Notably, U.S. Army Maj. Adam Dyet, a CGSOC student, was part of the humanitarian relief effort during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

“The operation tempo was high, and the greater humanitarian relief effort to Haiti proved extremely difficult to coordinate. I quickly learned that face-to-face meetings with military and civilian entities, government agencies, and NGOs were key to creating a smooth and efficient collaborative effort,” said Dyet. “I personally did not receive any formal training on disaster response operations or humanitarian efforts prior to arriving Haiti. Therefore, it is imperative that we all understand each organization’s role in completing the mission,” he added.

Dyet was a U.S. Army captain assigned as the Port Operations Officer in charge of helping with shipments in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake in Haiti. His job was to coordinate the movement of equipment and humanitarian aid within the port and to distribution sites throughout the city.  Dyet was an Army logistician during the Haiti humanitarian response, and is now a serving as a U.S. Army strategic plans and policy officer.

U.S. Army Major Adam Dyet, CGSOC student, speaks with Ret. Army National Guard Major General Bennett Landreneau, former Adjutant General of the Louisiana National Guard, about disaster operations during the 3-day panel at Fort Benning, Ga., Apr 4. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Charon Camarasa)

U.S. Army Maj. Adam Dyet, CGSOC student, speaks with retired Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, former Adjutant General of the Louisiana National Guard, about disaster operations during the 3-day panel at Fort Benning, Ga., Apr 4. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Charon Camarasa)

The SOUTHCOM team also presented matters related to civil military assistance and supporting U.S. and partner nation objectives. SOUTHCOM provides civil military assistance to 31 countries throughout Latin America.

Colombian Army Lt. Col. Nelson Maje, another CGSOC student, shared his impressions of the panel members and commended the U.S. for their outstanding coordination efforts in response to natural disasters.

“Colombia has a national center for disaster operations called Unidad Nacional para la Gestión del Riesgo de Desastres,” said Maje. “In the last few years, the Colombian Army has given top priority to responding to disaster-relief efforts. Today’s panel has illustrated how U.S. humanitarian response systems are of high caliber and well synchronized. I thank the panel members for sharing their knowledge and appreciate the lessons learned so the WHINSEC students can further develop and hone their practical insights on the matter,” he said.

Maje is a rotary-wing pilot by trade and was handpicked by the Colombian Army to attend the CGSOC course at WHINSEC.

Although some of the international students may not have access to the same type of response systems that exist in the U.S., the general consensus is the same; humanitarian assistance after a national disaster crisis is still considered by most Caribbean, Central, and South American governments, security forces, and vulnerable populations, as a serious threat to life, rule of law, and stability.

“The coordination and integration of all activities is necessary when responding to (disaster) operations,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Eliud Diaz, Director of the School for Professional Military Education at WHINSEC. “Future leaders must understand the process of information sharing, communication, and the pressing responsibilities of the key players and the requisite synchronization effort between civilian and military entities,” he said.

Diaz further emphasized that when responding to a disaster that it requires more than just coordination and integration.

“Organizational cooperation is required to effectively employ meaningful, well-rehearsed disaster operations to avert perpetuating the effects of the disaster, and to efficiently provide humanitarian aid,” he added.  “We want all our students to be prepared so they are not stretched beyond their limits if they encounter such disastrous events.”

After the presentations ended, the students had the opportunity to engage in one-on-one discussions with the speakers.

The Disaster Response Symposium is an annual event hosted by WHINSEC and aimed at teaching the participants how to better coordinate and share information with partners during disaster operations.

Disaster preparation and being equipped with the ‘know-how’ to execute a well-orchestrated response is an important and relevant topic, and one that is invaluable to the process of growing well-developed officers.

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