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FAOs, DOD Civilians Get Primer on Joint Humanitarian Ops, Disaster Relief

An instructor with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) lectures during the Joint Humanitarian Operations Course, Jan. 25.

NPS’ Center for Civil-Military Relations (CCMR) Prevention, Relief and Recovery program, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), brought together military and DOD professionals who will react as initial responders to overseas disasters of catastrophic proportions for the latest iteration of the two-day Joint Humanitarian Operations Course (JHOC), Jan. 25-26.

The course was first brought to NPS through CCMR last year and is available to a wide range of participants, including Foreign Area Officers (FAO) who will be posted at American embassies around the world. Participants in the course learn about the various U.S. government and civilian organizations that respond to these incidents, along with the policies, procedures and mandates that guide how they work together, and with international organizations and foreign governments that also respond to disasters.

Current FAO, U.S. Army Maj. Scott Wares earned his master’s degree through the Department of National Security Affairs (NSA) in the Fall of 2017, and was appreciative of the opportunity to expand his education within this specific mission area.

“I think the course was excellent. It provides officers with a realistic perspective on interagency operations from the perspective of the other agency, as some of us may be called upon to assist during a humanitarian disaster,” said Wares. “I’ve done it twice in my career, and at a minimum, I think that every FAO should attend this course before going on to their next assignment.

Fellow FAO and NPS student Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Frost, also of the NSA department, believes that projecting “soft power” will continue to be an important part of American foreign policy.

“How we respond to humanitarian crises quickly and efficiently is something the U.S. excels at because of the unique capabilities our military can offer,” Frost said. “Learning to work with USAID, OFDA is essential for FAOs and staff officers because disaster response is nuanced. Without knowing how the process works, well-meaning actions taken by proactive commanders can severely degrade the effectiveness of the overall relief effort, and even tarnish America's image.

“The JHOC course is essential to learning exactly when and how the military should participate in these operations,” he continued. “This knowledge contributes to a better whole of government approach to executing U.S. government policy.”

Each lesson in the JHOC curriculum was taken from inexhaustible real-world experiences learned from recovery operations such as the tsunami that struck Banda Ache, Indonesia to the volcanos and earthquakes in the Philippines and Haiti. All of them had a Military Liaison Team working together with COCOMS. It’s clear that Joint Humanitarian Operations are part and parcel to the FAO tool bag.

As for FAO and NPS student Lt. j.g. Tanya Herfi, who has not yet responded to a humanitarian assistance or disaster response situation, has done some level of planning during training and ship work up cycles. She says she was very unaware of the work that OFDA does prior to the workshop.

“I found that it’s the communication, coordination and collaboration that are absolutely essential in order for OFDA to have any sort of mission success in disaster relief efforts. It takes the right kind of people with the right kind of attitude to get things done and truly help those who need it in the time of a disaster or crisis,” said Herfi.

“Another big takeaway for me was the sheer number of people and organizations that are so willing to help with disaster relief efforts. Not everyone can realistically help without creating more problems than it would solve ... This includes the DOD,” Herfi continued. “Even though we are willing and able, there may be times when we are not needed and may get turned away, we have to just accept that. The JHOC was very worthwhile and time well spent.”

The JHOC course is free to attend and is certified by the DOD Joint Staff. It is intended for DOD civilians, officers and NCOs working in operations, logistics, communications, medical, planning and civil affairs who may be called upon to take part in humanitarian assistance/disaster response missions. Participants receive training on best practices, participate in discussion groups, and identify the roles and responsibilities of the host nation, international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and UN agencies in an international disaster response scenario.

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