Cannon hosts first Joint Humanitarian Operations Course

An Air Commando, participating as a student in a Joint Humanitarian Operations Course, takes notes during lecture Aug. 26, 2015 at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. The class, led by the United States Agency for International Development, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, was able to incorporate and apply lecture lessons to past real-world disaster and humanitarian aid scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alexx Mercer)

An Air Commando, participating as a student in a Joint Humanitarian Operations Course, takes notes during lecture Aug. 26, 2015 at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M. The class, led by the United States Agency for International Development, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, was able to incorporate and apply lecture lessons to past real-world disaster and humanitarian aid scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alexx Mercer)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Roughly 30 Air Commandos had the privilege of attending a 2-day course led by the United States Agency for International Development, Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance Aug. 25 and 26.

This marked the first time the USAID-OFDA Joint Humanitarian Operations Course was offered for members of the 27th Special Operations Wing, giving Airmen the opportunity to see the unique role Air Force Special Operations Command can play as a component of United States Special Operations Command’s strategy to augment Department of Defense global disaster relief and humanitarian aid.

To ensure Air Commandos understood the roles and responsibilities of DoD and USAID-OFDA during joint humanitarian assistance disaster relief operations, two representatives from the USAID-OFDA Military Liaison Team came prepared to leave Airmen with a better holistic view of ground operations.

“We expect you all to ask hard questions throughout lessons, demonstrate teamwork during practical exercises, provide us with honest feedback and share what you learn here,” stated Terry Curtis, USAID-OFDA MLT member. “This course was developed in 2004 by OFDA’s MLT and we conduct nearly 100 courses annually. Year-to-date, we have had nearly 15,000 participants over almost 500 classes.”

According to facilitators, the JHOC is presented at various command levels within the DoD: Geographical combatant commands, functional combatant commands, major commands, various schoolhouses and smaller field units. This is an official joint course worth certification credit for many commissioned officers and draws policy guidance directly from the Department of the Secretary of State.

USAID-OFDA has various resources at its disposal that allow it to effectively assist in disaster relief worldwide. OFDA is able to provide funding, supplies such as blankets and durable sheeting for shelter, assign personnel to advise and assess during aid, and request additional support from other U.S. government agencies, including the DoD.

“Our goal is to partner with necessary entities to help end extreme poverty, alleviate human pain caused by natural and manmade disasters and promote resiliency within foreign nations,” Curtis said. “This course allows us to better synchronize efforts between the civilian side of the U.S. government and the military side when we become involved in humanitarian assistance relief operations.”

While Steve Katz, another USAID-OFDA MLT member, noted the average American believes the U.S. government spends roughly 25 percent of its annual budget on foreign aid, in actuality it only spends about 1 percent.

“USAID-OFDA helps respond to about 70 natural disasters per year,” Katz stated. “You might ask why the DoD provides this aid; it all goes back to OFDA’s role as the lead federal agency for disaster responses and its mandate to save lives, alleviate suffering, and reduce the economic impact and social impact disasters.”

The course honed in on many key facts, significantly that every $1 spent on risky reduction earns back $20-$25 in response capabilities. Additionally, there are several criteria that must be met before the U.S. can involve itself in providing global aid to other nations: the host country must ask for or be willing to accept help, the disaster much be of such magnitude that it is beyond the host country’s ability to respond, and it should be in the best interest of the U.S. to provide assistance.

“Humanitarian actions are guided by four principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence,” Curtis said. “Chief among all of those is that humanitarian actions should do no harm. We want to benefit affected nations and people to help return them to their normal lives and livelihoods.”

Disasters are categorized into three categories: rapid onset, such as an earthquake; slow onset, such as food insecurity; and complex emergencies, which have some element of conflict. Many of the major CE responses occur in Africa. In 2011, ODFA responded to CE foreign disasters in countries such as Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Libya.

USAID-OFDA recognizes that many wish to help when these disasters occur, often adding to the problem and not the solution, particularly when it comes to donations. Many fail to realize that the donation of goods requires many distribution resources, such as staff and warehouses for storage, that are not readily available in other nations.

“Inappropriate donations, the kind that require many additional resources in devastated areas, can reflect poorly on the U.S. toward the host nation,” Curtis said. “We have found that the best practice is monetary donations.”

“This is in no way a plug for money, just a way to help people realize that if they want to help, cash donations are most effective,” he continued. “Money needs no storage, has no shelf-life and can be easily used to acquire critical relief supplies.”

The course concluded leaving Air Commandos with a better vision of the role the military can play when called upon to provide assistance during relief efforts.

“Ultimately, providing military capabilities during humanitarian efforts helps instill trust while building foreign partnerships,” stated Curtis.

For more information regarding USAID-OFDA, visit their website.