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NEWS | Dec. 18, 2021

351st CACOM gears up for disaster response support

By Sgt. 1st Class Lisa M. Litchfield U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne)

Sitting atop the spot where not one but three tectonic plates meet; the Indian Plate, the Burmese Plate, and the Eurasian Plate, Bangladesh is one of the most tectonically active regions in the world. Combine that with the world’s largest mountain range, the Himalayas, three rivers; the Brahmaputra, the Ganges, and the Meghna, as well as a population density of more than 160 million people, and any natural disaster could be catastrophic to the countries landscape and population.

For the 351st Civil Affairs Command, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), disaster response is the name of the game. Regionally aligned with U.S. Army Pacific, the Functional Specialty Teams with the 351st CACOM are constantly preparing to do what they do best: injecting an FxSP to provide subject matter experts to countries impacted by natural disasters.

Since 2010, USARPAC has supported the Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange, which is primarily an earthquake disaster related exercise, by working with the Bangladesh Armed Forces, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, and Armed Forces Division with the focus on disaster management and risk reduction.

After taking a hiatus last year due to COVID restrictions the DREE is back for its 10th year of training on managing earthquake disasters and has become the largest exercise on earthquake management in the Bangladesh region and beyond. In attendance this year were international partners and governmental and non-governmental organizations including the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Turkey, USAID, WHO, and the United Nations.

For U.S. Army Reserve officers, Lt. Col. Chris Herion, international law officer, and Capt. Sarah Robinson, a public health nurse, both with 351stCACOM FxSP, the exercise was about presence and integration.

“Our primary role was to represent 351 CACOM at the exercise,” he explained. “Specifically, we integrated ourselves in two functional cells commensurate with our respective subject matter expertise in international law and public health. These functional cells would be stood-up in the event of a natural disaster. I worked in the Internally Displaced Persons cell, Capt. Robinson worked in the Medical cell.”

“We learned that, in the event of a natural disaster in Bangladesh, be it: an earthquake, tsunami, cyclone, or tornado, 13 functional cells would be activated under Bangladesh’s Disaster Incident Management Team framework,” said Herion.

Herion further explained that other specialties within an FxSP, such as, public safety, communication, public works and infrastructure, along with search and rescue cells would be needed to mitigate the inevitable issues which would arise from the mass damage, loss of life, and population displacement that follow a disaster. Therefore, 351 CACOM’s FxSP would be perfectly positioned to support USARPAC’s response.

A magnitude 6.8 earthquake scenario comprised much of day two, allowing the international attendees and representatives with 351st CACOM FxSP to work together on solutions to concerns presented during the training. Participants engaged in sessions with SMEs on disaster relief and attended breakout sessions on medical concerns and international law, as well as developing courses of action across the 13 DIMT cells which would be stood up in the case of a live natural disaster.

“We also closely worked with the U.S. based NGO, Institute for Security Governance, which moderated one of the SME sessions and prepared the After Action Review,” stated Herion. “The U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh also spoke at the DREE, which presented further opportunities to interact with him and Department of State personnel, along with the US Embassy’s Defense Attaché’ and his staff.”

"Exercises like DREE reflect real-world disaster scenarios and offer valuable opportunities to improve civilian and military cooperation," said Earl R. Miller, U.S. ambassador to the People's Republic of Bangladesh.

"For over five decades now, the United States has been committed to supporting Bangladesh, and I am really proud of these joint efforts, especially over the past two years, because ultimately, they help save lives."

Even though DREE Bangladesh 2021 had the dual challenge of reengaging after a year off, and conducting their operation in a COVID-19 environment, approximately 37 countries attended, of which around 200 persons attended in-person and 80 persons attended virtually, according to Herion.

“I believe the mere fact we showed up and were prepared to get to work from the outset changed any misconception that the United States was not serious about ensuring the continuity of DREE Bangladesh, after it was canceled the previous year,” said Herion.

The DREE was actually the first OCONUS exercise the 351st CACOM participated in since COVID restrictions were enacted March 2020. Attendees were required to obtain a negative PCR COVID test 72 hours prior to travel and undergo daily rapid tests. All the extra steps were taken to ensure everyone's safety and pave the way for future exercises in FY22 and beyond.

DREE Bangladesh 2022 is slated to include field training exercises in addition to this year’s format of SME observations and participation in the breakout groups.
Disaster may be the name of the game, but training and cooperation pave the path toward securing the victory.