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Humanitarian assistance team completes evaluation

  • Published
  • By Captain Andrew Hoskinson
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
After three days of simulations and exercises, the Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team, or HARRT, successfully completed its first operational utility evaluation at Andersen Air Force Base July 13-17.

Combining the capabilities of the 36th Contingency Response Group, the 36th Medical Group, and other Air Force and Navy personnel, the evaluation proved that the HARRT is mission ready. The week's activities capped more than a year of preparation and planning by expeditionary and medical experts in the Air Force.

"This is historic," said Col. Wayne Pritt, 13th Air Force command surgeon. "It is all about humanitarian assistance and disaster response."

With a long history of participation in humanitarian assistance missions as far back as the Berlin Airlift in 1948, the Air Force has a wealth of experience in providing care and aid to distressed populations. In recent years, Air Force planners have looked to improve on this knowledge by creating teams of first responders to respond to disasters around the world when assistance is requested.

According to Colonel Pritt, the notable difference between humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions is the ability to act immediately. "There is no time to plan," he said. "That is really what drove us to form the HARRT."

The mission of the HARRT is to augment and assist host nation disaster medical relief efforts when called upon. The HARRT is designed to be a small package which can be deployed to austere environments within 24 hours of a host nation's request. The small team is different from previous efforts to provide comprehensive medical aid to distressed populations following a disaster.

The HARRT concept evolved from a previous humanitarian mission known as Pacific Lifeline. Pacific Lifeline was a significantly larger medical and support team made up of around 900 personnel. After numerous exercises, it became clear to organizers that although the team was very capable, its overwhelming size was too large to deploy quickly and efficiently.

"What we needed was something leaner and lighter, yet still capable, that we could package together and get out the door immediately," said Colonel Pritt. "So when there is a disaster somewhere, we have a pre-planned force package."

A deployment to an austere environment immediately after a disaster may face situations requiring more than medical support alone. Such concerns include opening an airfield to allow the delivery of additional medical supplies, food, or aid workers, for example.

The 36th Contingency Response Group, or CRG, was selected by Pacific Air Forces to provide the solution to the unique problems of a disaster situation. The CRG is a rapidly deployable unit and provides the command, control, communications and base operating support to the HARRT.

"The CRG normally deploys to open an airfield, per the airbase opening mission," said Col. Daniel Settergren, 36th CRG Commander. The CRG's responsibility is to bring enough capability to manage the airfield, unload the airplanes, as well as run the base camp, according to Colonel Settergren.

According to Colonel Pritt, the HARRT concept is unique because it integrates the expeditionary mindset of the Contingency Response Group and the medical capability of the Expeditionary Medical Support Basic kit.

The Expeditionary Medical Support, or EMEDS, basic kit is comprised of equipment and supplies for 28 medical personnel. The HARRT can treat between 350 and 500 people per day with the EMEDS Basic kit. When deployed in an actual contingency, medical care will include preventive medicine and primary care. During this week's evaluation, organizers used simulated patients to test the HARRT capability.

"We learned a lot, which is what we expected," said Colonel Settergren. "We have not done this before. This is a first in the Air Force."

Having completed the Operational Utility Evaluation, the HARRT will now prepare for its first deployment. A validation exercise will take place in September on the Western Pacific island of Chuuk. The deployment will be a validation of the HARRT concept and allow the team an opportunity to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Chuuk.

The deployment to Chuuk will allow members of the HARRT to hone their skills in another location in this critical region of the world. "In the Pacific, because of the geography, it is not a question of if there will be a disaster, it is a question of when," said Colonel Pritt. "So when there is a disaster, we can get this team out the door in a hurry."

However, the HARRT concept is not limited to the Pacific region. According to Colonel Pritt, Pacific Command is not the only command with a need to provide a humanitarian response in disaster scenarios. "It is my firm belief that this will be standardized across the Air Force and that this capability will eventually belong to the other combatant commands, as well."