Rewarding and Challenging: USACAPOC(A) Soldiers aid in Mozambique cyclone relief

By Lt. Col. Jefferson Wolfe, USACAPOC(A) Public Affairs Officer | USACAPOC | April 12, 2019

FORT BRAGG, N.C. —

Deployed Soldiers with The United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) helped with cyclone relief in Mozambique.

Cyclone Idai struck the Republic of Mozambique in mid-March, causing hundreds of deaths and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. The storm also caused catastrophic flooding that damaged homes, public infrastructure and farmland.

The USACAPOC(A) Soldiers are deployed with Combined Joint Task Force—Horn of Africa, headquartered in Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, which was the lead for U.S. Department of Defense logistics support to the U.S. Government humanitarian relief response, coordinated by the U.S. Agency for International Development Disaster Assistance Response Team.

Nearly 100 CJTF-HOA joint personnel traveled to Mozambique to assist with logistics and distribution of supplies. In addition, more than 100 joint service members have assisted with the effort at CJTF-HOA headquarters.

Maj. Matthew E. Fraley, with B Co., 404th Civil Affairs Battalion, a subordinate unit of the 353rd Civil Affairs Command, was part of part of a four-person Forward Coordination Element sent to the U.S. Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique. The FCE arrived in Mozambique on March 24.

The task force’s goals were to work with partners to provide the airlift capability to move significant amounts of aid supplies and food to locations where they can be distributed by the humanitarian organizations to people in need, Fraley stated in an e-mail interview from Mozambique.

“The FCE is the first element on ground to set the conditions and build the appropriate relationships with Embassy, USAID, and Republic of Mozambique contacts,” he stated. “In a much broader sense, the DoD effort here is to support USAID and the Republic of Mozambique with their Humanitarian Relief effort. We provide a unique capability to move food and supplies from around the world to areas affected by the disaster so that humanitarian organizations can deliver those items to the people affected by the disaster.”

Another USACAPOC(A) Soldier, Maj. Erik Buendia, the commander of the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, also a subordinate unit of the 353rd CACOM, was chosen to support the mission in part because he speaks Portuguese. While there are more than 20 local languages spoken around the country, Portuguese is the national language.

“As a linguist in the Portuguese language, my task and purpose was to build positive working relationships with the local nationals to ultimately facilitate or expedite the process,” he stated, also by e-mail.

Buendia also was tasked with being the Airfield Operations Officer.

"In a two-week span, we transported approximately 1,782,650 metric tons of food and supplies to Beira," Buendia said.

The team used Department of Defense C-12, C-130 and C-17 aircraft to bring personnel, food, and supplies from around the world to Maputo then on to Beira, he added. Their support facilitated the delivery of goods from multiple partner organizations, including: UNICEF, AMI, and WFP to families affected by the cyclone.

“I provided airfield, aircraft, and logistical operation updates to the mission commander and was the liaison between our joint task force, local Mozambique Air Force personnel, NGO stakeholders, and partner organizations needing access to the airfield,” Buendia said. “Being aware of the critical need for these goods, our goal was to conduct these trips in a timely manner in order to deliver supplies to the families in need of food as quickly as possible.”

The initial challenge was getting all the stakeholders working together smoothly, he said.
“Once USAID established command and control and provided guidance, everything else seemed to fall in place,” he added.

Cyclone Idai will have a lasting impact on the people of Mozambique, Fraley said.

“The immediate loss of life, as well as the cholera and other medical effects from contaminated water are only short term issues,” he said. “The cyclone also destroyed approximately 1.8 million acres (the state of Delaware is approximately 1.4 million acres) of farmland that had been seeded for winter crops.”

Fraley estimated the cyclone will affect Mozambique’s agricultural production for at least the next two growing seasons.

However, conditions are improving, he added.

“Since we have been here, the water has receded and the humanitarian organizations and NGOs have been able to get out to the isolated affected people and start to provide relief,” he said. “Roads have been cleared to allow passage from Beira to Chimoio and other areas north and west to help move supplies to people affected.”

Buendia also has seen improvement in the conditions, especially in the larger cities like Maputo and Beira.

“The Host Nation has sent crews to clean debris and clear the roadways within the city facilitating access for humanitarian organizations and NGOs to reach families in affected areas,” he said. “Now that the city is more accessible, the Host Nation along with other partners like WFP can focus on getting food and supplies via helicopter to more remote locations that still can’t be accessed via roadways.”

The largest obstacle facing the recovery effort is access to the people in need, he said.

“The U.S. Embassy and the Republic of Mozambique provided space in warehouses and on the airfield to set up a Civil Military Operations Center and loading operations,” Fraley stated.

“We have been able to use our expeditionary (communications) packages and unique equipment allowed us to set up and communicate with CJTF-HOA,” he said. “The 435th Contingency Response Group has been a vital asset and they have forward deployed material handlers, airfield managers, and additional airmen in Beira to help work the airfield, download cargo as it arrives, and facilitate getting it to the humanitarian organizations.”

The teamwork during the mission has been outstanding, Buendia said, citing especially the dedication of the aerial port airmen, also known as “port dogs,” and the aircraft maintenance crews.

“The port dogs are responsible for palletizing thousands of pounds of cargo before being transported,” he said. “This can be a very tedious job however, throughout this mission the port dogs consistently pushed through until the last piece of cargo available at our location was palletized and loaded onto the aircraft.”

The aircraft maintenance crews showed great dedication and professionalism, Buendia said.

“With 24-hour air operations in less than ideal conditions, aircraft eventually break down,” he said. “Under these circumstances these men and women worked around the clock to ensure the aircraft was fully operational as quickly as possible. Without their dedication none of the supplies would have been delivered.”

The relief efforts have been challenging for both men.

Civil Affairs Officers are trained and equipped to handle this type of disaster relief mission, but they had with other responsibilities as well, Buendia said.

“The most challenging part of this mission was remaining focused on the logistical aspect of the mission,” he added. “CJTF-HOA was here to support USAID, the U.S. Embassy, and the government of Mozambique.”

Fraley leveraged some of his previous military experience and civilian professional experience in planning disaster recovery and resiliency.

“Tying all of the experience together, working with a multi-agency, joint staff that is geographically dislocated has been one of the most rewarding, albeit challenging, experiences of my life,” he said.