A peaceful white-sand paradise is flipped upside down when a magnitude 7.3 earthquake ravages the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, causing devastating tsunamis in a Cope North 2020 exercise scenario.
For the first time in Cope North history, Pacific Air Forces invited the Royal Australian air force to lead the Humanitarian and Disaster Relief, or HADR, mission of Cope North, with an integrated tri-nation team from the U.S., RAAF and Koku Jieitai Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
The magnitude of the simulated emergency led to the establishment of a Multinational Task Force headquarters at Andersen Air Force Base.
The MNTF brought together all three nations to monitor ongoing threats, assess damages and develop a plan to insert personnel and supplies to support the affected islands north of Guam, with RAAF Group Captain Mark Larter, 95 Wing commanding officer, Cope North MNTF commander, taking the helm.
“The (U.S. Air Force’s) decision to invite Australia to lead the HADR component of Cope North 2020 for the first time is a reflection of their deep respect and confidence in the Royal Australian air force’s ability to lead and plan a major tri-nation exercise in a professional, credible and safe manner,” Larter said.
Cope North’s focus on HADR provides critical training to U.S. and allied militaries and has a direct impact on the militaries’ ability to support the region, including the CNMI, Palau, and Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia.
The focus of the HADR exercise was the deployment and redeployment of combat support capabilities, conducting security forces and airfield operations in a friendly nation with elements of social unrest.
Expeditionary forces deployed to Tinian and Rota to provide airlift and medical support. They were also tasked with establishing the security and command and control necessary for any disaster relief operation. One of their goals was to establish and operate an airfield in an austere environment to ensure air operations could occur safely and effectively.
Throughout the deployment to Tinian and Rota, U.S., Koku Jieitai and RAAF personnel combined efforts to perform medical evacuations, airfield security, command and control, search and rescue and cargo and personnel airlifts to react to the earthquake disaster scenario. They constructed deployable tents for shelter and food and water storage and responded to real-time role-playing scenarios to test readiness.
In the natural-disaster scenario, infrastructure on Tinian was severely damaged and water contamination caused several dozen cases of mild to intense poisoning, including deaths, bringing the local health care facility under strain.
With the local CNMI government having limited capability to restock lifesaving medical supplies, the trilateral medical team was employed to mitigate further deaths and quell public unrest.
“Operating cohesively alongside our Australian and Japanese allies allows us to understand one another’s capabilities and strengths,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Shaquielle Sheppard, En Route Patient Staging health care administrator deployed to Rota, Spain. “This training has solidified what we can accomplish together and what we can bring to the fight.”
Personnel operating in the ERPS facility worked to ensure safe transport and care was provided to in-transit patients during their stay at Rota before being moved to locations supporting higher levels of medical treatment.
“Open communication is vital as well as patient and personnel safety,” Sheppard said. “When we successfully complete a mission like this, it’s the most fulfilling feeling and the whole point of us being here.”
With the help of multiple linguists from each country, the exercise was able to overcome the challenge of language barriers, allowing each nation to adapt quickly to each scenario.
The scenarios were designed to enable the execution of HADR mission sets, focusing on both benign and hostile environments.
“It’s been a privilege to observe the incremental learning of our personnel as they take on valuable lessons throughout the exercise,” Larter said. “They have performed with aplomb, and the U.S. Air Force and JASDF are full of admiration regarding our work ethic, experience, and innovation. I am extremely proud of the way the RAAF has performed and contributed to this highly successful HADR exercise.”
Cope North allows U.S. and allied forces to practice HADR efforts to prepare for and recover from the devastating effects of natural disasters.
The relationships built and sustained with multinational partners in the Indo-Pacific region through exercises, civil-military operations and military exchanges help tremendously in humanitarian efforts and in preserving peace and stability in the region.