Story by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield
KANDAHAR, Afghan. – With the country of Afghanistan’s constant talk on low precipitation, drought has been a major concern for many of the leaders and civilians of the country, according to media outlets.
With concerns like this in mind Resolute Support – Headquarters organized a Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response exercise with the assistance of Train, Advice, Assist Command-South, March 18-19, here.
The two-day course, which consisted of scenarios involving floods, drought, earthquakes and mass refugee crisis, was led by senior Afghan leaders and planners, who recently graduated from the first North Atlantic Treaty Organization operational planner’s course.
The purpose of the course is to provide Afghan leaders an opportunity to conduct government interagency functions and refine and improve national and regional level contingency plans for HA/DR events, according to Lt. Col. Ken Smith, strategic plans officer for RS-HQ.
Smith, who was the lead planner of the exercise, said leaders of TAAC-South, which is comprised of members of the 40th Infantry Division out of the California National Guard and 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, were specifically selected to participate in the training.
“Many of the [Soldiers] of TAAC-South are members of the California National Guard back in the states,” said Smith, an Omaha, Nebraska native. “They have experience with disaster response whether it’s part of their civilian job or as members of the guard, so this was a great opportunity to have them share what they have learned [during those events]with our [Afghan counterparts].”
In the group of Soldiers that served as subject matter experts for the exercise, was Maj. Nathan Wall and Sgt. Maj. Aaron Cardoza, both members of the 40th Inf. Div.
“No one plans for a disaster to happen on their doorstep,” said Wall, the logistics deputy officer for TAAC-South and a native Yucaipa, California. “Reaction time is key, [our partners] don’t have to suffer with not knowing what will and won’t work because we can bring that to the discussion and help them not have to start from ground zero.”
Wall, who is a preventive medicine officer in the Army, said during humanitarian assistance and disaster response his biggest concern is planning for displaced individuals and non-battle injuries such as disease, both which he wanted to make sure to share with Afghan allies.
“More people die after a disaster than during… in my experience,” said Wall. “Things like cholera, E.coli, loss of food… all these things can be prevented or at least reduced by planning where to stand a field sanitation station, dining facility, sleeping quarters, latrines… planning is crucial.”
Cardoza, the operations sergeant major for TAAC-South, also emphasized the importance of planning to the senior leaders.
“Over my years of service I have participated in floods, fires, and earthquakes as part of the guard,” said Cardoza, a Marietta, California native. “You can’t plan for every scenario but by staging vehicles, equipment, having Soldier or personnel trained, food or water packaged you can speed up the reaction time and ultimately be able to save people’s lives and homes.”
For Col. Mohammad Soroush, ministry of defense plans officer in Afghanistan, the exercise was extremely helpful for himself and his fellow leaders.
“It’s important for us to go over these types of scenarios,” said Soroush. “Any course of action that we decided to conduct takes effort and coordination and we always need to have a contingency plan or else we could fail and lose lives.”
Soroush stated that the best part was being able to have subject matter experts such as Wall, Cardoza and the other 40th Inf. Div. Soldiers as part of the exercise to share their experience.
“You really have to think about everything: shelter, food, equipment, personal,” said Soroush. “Myself and the rest of the leaders were very excited to get to hear and learn from what they have gone through.”
Aside from the planning aspect of a tragedy, Wall also wanted to emphasize the importance of working as a team regardless of whether they are a military member, law enforcement, national or regional –level representative.
“To be able to bring people together from north, south, east and west Afghanistan, and go over what each of their capabilities are during a disaster is amazing,” said Wall. “When disasters happen the military usually plays a small role in a very big operation and to build a relationship with everyone and come together is just the beginning of a much bigger partnership.”
Wall said he hopes they are able to build a partnership similar to what California has.
“If there is an event in southern California, those who live in that area are expected to take care and comfort their Families, while the guys up north come over and take care of us and what is happening around us,” said Wall. “We help each other as a state and I hope we were able to relay the importance of that relationship today during the exercise.”
Soroush said he saw the importance of partnership within the organizations during the exercise.
“Exercises and training make everything better because we are able to see our downfalls, especially during the after action review when we all come together,” said Soroush. “We are now able to see what worked and what didn’t so when a tragedy happens we can select the best course of action to be successful as a team.”
Wall, who is half way done with his deployment as part of TAAC-South, said it’s events like this that make him proud to be part of the National Guard.
“To be able to come all the way half around the world to represent my country, state and the guard with our expertise, that’s what being a National Guard Soldier is about,” said Wall. “We are not just Soldiers with specific [military occupational specialties], we are also civilians with regular jobs and that, I believe, helps us with the way we think and plan for things.”