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USTRANSCOM, AMC support South American humanitarian exercise

Juggling competing priorities for precious strategic airlift, U.S. Transportation Command came through for U.S. Southern Command. On Tuesday, C-17s delivered three search-and-rescue helicopters and medical readiness kits to Costa Rica for this year's Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias (Humanitarian Allied Forces).

USSOUTHCOM required delivery of three New Mexico National Guard UH-60 Black Hawks and medical equipment to support the exercise. Competing priorities, including presidential support, created challenges for USTRANSCOM, but the challenges were not insurmountable.

"Working internally with our fusion cell and the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center, as well as collaborating with USSOUTHCOM's Standing Joint Forces Headquarters, we quickly and successfully provided aircrews and aircraft to support FAHUM 2009," said Marine Lt. Col. Joseph Raftery, chief of the USSOUTHCOM Branch at USTRANSCOM.

FAHUM 2009 is a collaborative event that involves first responders and regional partner nation participants from 25 countries. The multi-staged event, combines a command post exercise and field training at multiple simulated "disaster site" locations for civilian and military disaster responders in Antigua & Barbuda, Costa Rica, Grenada and Honduras.

The annual exercise is typically held before the start of the Atlantic hurricane to rehearse and test and improve regional and national disaster response capabilities within Central America and the Caribbean Basin. The multiple simulated natural disaster scenarios include an earthquake in Antigua, floods and mudslides in Costa Rica, and earthquake and floods in Honduras and a tsunami in Grenada.

Raftery said the strategic importance of supporting USSOUTHCOM's exercise was not lost on the USTRANSCOM Operations and Plans Directorate or the TACC.

"A big part of FAHUM 2009 is a medical exercise in remote areas," he said. "Without the helicopters and medical training exercise kits, the FAHUM 2009 would have been downgraded significantly, from a U.S. perspective."

Members of the branch analyzed available airlift resources and found strategic airlift was tapped out.

"But when we took a closer look, we found two C-17s scheduled to go to Barbados to redeploy equipment used to support the President for the Summit of the Americas," said Raftery. "In collaboration with the TACC and SOUTHCOM's Distribution Deployment Operations Center, we directed the aircraft to pick up and deliver the helicopters and medical equipment to support the requirements of this strategic mission, which continues to help improve international relationships."

As a result, two Air Mobility Command C-17s from the 305th Air Mobility Wing, McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., completed the mission.

The Vice Minister of Public Security for Costa Rica, Marcela Chacon, was present at San Jose International Airport when the C-17s arrived, underscoring the importance of FAHUM 2009. Chacon expressed great pride, saying, "The relationship that [the] government of Costa Rica has nurtured with U.S. government counterparts has evolved into the realization of the arrival of two C-17s and three helicopters to support FAHUM 2009."

National and international print and broadcast media also covered the event, the largest exercise USSOUTHCOM has ever conducted in Costa Rica, and the first time that the State Partnership Program has been able to deploy aviation assets to execute a disaster relief exercise on a medical mission.

USTRANSCOM's liaison officer to USSOUTHCOM, Air Force Col. Thomas Murphy, said the exercise highlights just one aspect of the level of support the command gives other combatant commands.

"Again, great job by [the] DDOC (Distribution Deployment Operation Center)," said Murphy. "SOUTHCOM is extremely pleased by the support."

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