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South Pacific Exercise Focuses on Interoperability in Disaster Response

By Army Sgt. David J. Overson, 305th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

NOUMEA, New Caledonia, Sept. 19, 2017 — Improved interoperability in responses to natural disasters was the goal as the U.S. Army Reserve's 9th Mission Support Command worked hand in hand with NATO and partner nations Sept. 4-16 at Exercise Equateur 2017 in this French territory in the South Pacific.

In addition to the United States and host-nation France, participants in this year's annual exercise, a series that began in the late 1990s, included Australia, Fiji, Japan; New Zealand, Papua-New Guinea, Tonga, Vanuatu, the United Kingdom and Canada. Its intent is to simulate a national disaster enabling countries from the Pacific region to work together and provide both security and humanitarian aid to those affected by natural disasters.

The scenario this year split the island of New Caledonia into three different countries: the North Federation to the north, the United Islands of Koryphon in the center and the Republic of Thaery to the south. In the scenario, the North Federation was hit by an enormous tsunami, which left thousands of people in need of humanitarian aid. Militia factions were causing chaos along the way in the exercise scenario, which provided the opportunity for training in such a situation.

The recent and ongoing hurricane-related disasters in the United States and the Caribbean Sea underscore the value of response training, and New Caledonia, positioned in between Fiji and Australia, is susceptible to similar circumstances.

Army Lt. Col. Jeremy M Wasilewski, the 9th MSC officer in charge of Equateur 2017 training from the U.S. perspective, was technically the deputy exercise director external evaluator for the exercise. He has participated in this annual exercise in one form or another for three years, returning each time with newfound technical experience and guidance.

Important Training

"This training is very important to maintain our relationships in the Pacific with our partners and allies," Wasilewski said. "This allows us to learn their techniques and develop points of contacts in case there ever was a real disaster in the area, which would allow us to react and assist if ever needed."

Personnel from the 9th MSC, headquartered on Hawaii's island of Oahu, know all too well how devastating an event like this could be if it ever really happened. In preparation, disaster planning and training is a crucial element for those who reside on Pacific islands, he noted.

"On the surface, there are obviously language issues -- and, believe it or not, even with other English-speaking nations," Wasilewski said. "Some of the terms that Americans use are different from what the British may use, or the Australians and so on. However, when you dig deeper into it, we all try to use a common NATO doctrine. So, it's really interesting during the planning phase when each country brings their own flavor to it, if you will, and we all learn from that."

Though France is a NATO member and would always help in this type of real disaster, they do have a vested interest. New Caledonia is a French territory and is host to about 1,200 military personnel on any given day.

The officer in charge of the entire exercise was Col. Dominique Tardif, who commands the French air force's base here when not in exercise mode.

"I feel this exercise is very important to improve the working relationship between the nations here in the Southwest Pacific," he said. "In addition, as French troops rotate through this assignment here in New Caledonia, it's important they begin working with officers from other nations to grow as leaders."

Sept. 4-16 was the planning stage of the exercise, which will pick up where it left off in May, when hundreds of ground forces will arrive on the island to play out the scenario for Exercise Croix Du Sud 2018.

"I was very pleased with the progress of this exercise compared to the 2015 exercise,” Tardif said. "The planning phase went really well, and the different nations' officers worked very well together. These past two weeks have been very successful, and I feel confident in our ability to work with other nations in case a real disaster should ever strike."
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