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U.S. military, COPECO evaluate first responders

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras - Dr. Ricardo Aviles, a Medical Officer at the Medical Element, and Capt. Tyler Grunewald, the deputy director of MEDEL operations setion, speak with a community member about the COPECO exercise here last month. Joint Task Force-Bravo, Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, sent members of the Central America Survey Assessment Team to serve as evaluators during a two-day Foreign Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief preparedness exercise in the San Pedro Sula valley last month. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Candice Allen)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras - Dr. Ricardo Aviles, a Medical Officer at the Medical Element, and Capt. Tyler Grunewald, the deputy director of MEDEL operations setion, speak with a community member about the COPECO exercise here last month. Joint Task Force-Bravo, Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, sent members of the Central America Survey Assessment Team to serve as evaluators during a two-day Foreign Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief preparedness exercise in the San Pedro Sula valley last month. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt. Candice Allen)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- Joint Task Force-Bravo, Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, sent members of the Central America Survey Assessment Team to serve as evaluators during a two-day Foreign Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief preparedness exercise in the San Pedro Sula valley last month.

"When asked we support our partner nations with humanitarian assistance or disaster relief," said Army Lt. Col. Keith Pritchard, the Army Forces Battalion Commander and C-SAT team leader. "We serve as the 'eyes and the ears' for US Southern Command and JTF-Bravo when a natural disasters occur within the CENTAM Joint Operational Area."

In a simulated "Hurricane Ramon" scenario, C-SAT operations officers, team medics, emergency management personnel and logisticians evaluated Honduran first responders on emergency, risk, and information management, in addition to the town's and municipality's capacity to respond to floods and assess damages after the hurricane in Porterillos, Pimienta and La Bomba.

The Permanent Commission of Contingencies (COPECO) invited the C-SAT members to evaluate the region's first responders.

COPECO, which is the Honduran equivalent of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, was the exercise organizer. The European Commission's Disaster Preparedness, Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Directorate General (DIPECHO) and the Red Cross served as co-organizers.

"Most people don't know the history of JTF-Bravo," said Dimas Alonzo, a consultant for the DIPECHO project. "JTF-Bravo has supported a lot of disaster relief efforts in Honduras and they have moved thousands of supplies by with their air assets."

U.S. military participated in Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias, or Humanitarian Allied Forces, known as FA-HUM. FA-HUM is a three-phase exercise designed to test and strengthen the reaction efforts of first responders when disasters strike here in Central America.

"SOUTHCOM and JTF-Bravo were the pioneers of this type of exercise," he said.
The U.S. evaluators' goal was two-pronged.

"We are here to build our partner's capacity to respond to a natural disaster as well as align our training and education to meet the actual level of capability required for JTF-Bravo to assist our partners," said Air Force 1st Lt. Tyler Grunewald, a member of the C-SAT and the medical operations' deputy director at the Medical Element. "We want to ensure that we bring the right tools and skills to the fight."

The C-SAT is comprised of a team leader, operations officer, medical planner, civil-military engagement planner, air operations planner, logistics planner, communications planner and an engineer planner.

"If requested, we are the team that would arrive within 24 hours following a disaster to assist the US Embassy and partner nation in assessing the damage and identify military and relief requirements," said Air Force Maj. John Krunk, a foreign humanitarian and disaster relief planner for JTF-Bravo operations directorate and an exercise observer.
Although this was an exercise, there was more reality entrenched in the scenario.

"We want to thank JTF-Bravo for helping us, because year-after-year we have problems with flooding," said Rene Clavasquin Suazo, mayor of the municipality of Porterillos.

"I have participated in the scenarios both simulated and real life from flooding and mudslides to earthquakes," said Dr. Ricardo Aviles, a MEDEL medical officer and a member of the C-SAT, who observed the participants' medical response, triage of patient care, and water-rescue procedures.

In 2010, JTF-Bravo responded to the earthquake that devastated Haiti. In three days, a 23-member team launched from Soto Cano to Haiti and provided medical care for a month.

"In Haiti, I was in charge of patient care," the doctor said. "I also assisted our mobile, surgical team there from time to time."

In December 2011, the C-SAT team also participated in a foreign humanitarian and disaster relief exercise in Tegucigalpa.

Because of its geo-strategic location, JTF-Bravo provides the first U.S. military response to natural disasters throughout Central America. JTF-Bravo is committed to full partnerships with Central American governments in training and missions to support security, stability and prosperity throughout the region.

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