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Australians lead multinational HADR exercise for first time during Cope North

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Group Captain Mark Larter and Wing Commander Melissa Neilson speak on the importance of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) training during COPE North 20. On the island of Tinian, service members from the U.S., RAAF and Japanese Air Self Defense Force set up tents and prepare to step into their roles for their HA/DR training. Cope North’s focus on HA/DR provides critical training to U.S. and allied militaries that has a direct impact on the military’s ability to support the region, to include the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, and Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia.

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Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Medical Assistant Corporal Megan MacAuslan is joined by her U.S. Air Force (USAF) and Japanese Self-Defense Force (JASDF) counterparts in treating a simulated patient during a training scenario at the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HAD/DR) component of Exercise Cope North 20 on the island of Tinian Feb. 12-28, 2020. Exercise COPE North 20 (CN20) is a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored multilateral field training exercise. CN20 involves more than 2,000 personnel and approximately 100 aircraft and aims to increase the combat readiness and interoperability of the U.S. Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force. (Royal Australian Air Force photo by CPL David Said)

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Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) No 2 Expeditionary Health Squadron Medical Assistant Corporal Megan MacAuslan treats a simulated patient during a training scenario at the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HAD/DR) component of Exercise Cope North 20 on the island of Tinian. Exercise COPE North 20 (CN20) is a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored multilateral field training exercise. CN20 involves more than 2,000 personnel and approximately 100 aircraft and aims to increase the combat readiness and interoperability of the U.S. Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force. (Royal Australian Air Force photo by CPL David Said)

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U.S. Air Force personnel set up a surveillance camera during the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) component of Exercise Cope North 20 (CN20) on the island of Tinian Feb. 16, 2020. CN20 is a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored multilateral field training exercise that involves more than 2,000 personnel and approximately 100 aircraft and aims to increase the combat readiness and interoperability between the U.S. Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force. (Royal Australian Air Force photo by CPL David Said)

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A forklift moves supplies during the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HAD/DR) component of Exercise Cope North 20 (CN20) on the island of Tinian. CN20 is a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored multilateral field training exercise. CN20 involves more than 2,000 personnel and approximately 100 aircraft and aims to increase the combat readiness and interoperability of the U.S. Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force. (Royal Australian Air Force photo by CPL David Said)

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Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), U.S. Air Force and Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) personnel conduct a humanitarian assistance and disaster (HA/DR) relief briefing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, during Exercise Cope North 20 (CN20), a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored multilateral field training exercise Feb. 13, 2020. CN20 involves more than 2,000 personnel and approximately 100 aircraft and aims to increase the combat readiness and interoperability of the USAF, JASDF and RAAF. (Royal Australian Air Force photo by CPL David Said)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam --

A peaceful white-sand paradise is flipped upside down when a magnitude 7.3 earthquake ravages the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), causing devastating tsunamis in a Cope North 20 (CN20) exercise scenario.

For the first time in Cope North history, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) invited the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to lead the Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) mission of CN20, 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 (MNTF) HQ at Andersen.

The MNTF brought together all three nations to monitor ongoing threats, assess damage and develop a plan to insert personnel and supplies to support the affected islands north of Guam, with RAAF Group Captain (GPCAPT) Mark Larter (95 Wing commanding officer), CN20 MNTF commander, taking the helm.

“The [U.S. Air Force’s] decision to invite Australia to lead the HADR component of Cope North 20 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, to include 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 (C2) 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, C2, 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 local CNMI government having limited capability to restock life-saving 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 (ERPS) healthcare administrator deployed to Rota. “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 USAF 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.

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