Six countries converge for PACANGEL Papua New Guinea

The mission of Pacific Angel is to upgrade education and health facilities, as well as work to deepen local disaster response capabilities. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Tech. Sgt. James Stewart/Released)

The mission of Pacific Angel is to upgrade education and health facilities, as well as work to deepen local disaster response capabilities. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Tech. Sgt. James Stewart/Released)

EASTERN HIGHLANDS PROVINCE, Papua New Guinea -- A six-nation Pacific Angel 15-4 team arrived June 1 in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea.

The Pacific Angels -- doctors, dentists, plumbers and planners from Papua New Guinea, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Indonesia -- tumbled out of trucks in Goroka, a town of 20,000 people located a mile above sea-level, to deliver humanitarian assistance and build disaster relief abilities with the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.

The value of the exchanges taking place in tropical medicine, public health and engineering encourages partner countries to build relationships through these various programs, preserving peace and stability in the region.

According to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jim Fowler, PACANGEL Papua New Guinea mission commander, Pacific Angel is about taking the complexity of managing peacetime in Papua New Guinea and giving it a structure that might withstand worse.

"We're investing in sustainability," said U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph Anderson, the Pacific Air Forces command surgeon.

The operation helps Papua New Guinea military and civil health groups recognize and cope with the complexity of a disaster like the typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes and floods characteristic of the South Pacific, said U.S. Air Force Lt Col. Courtney Finkbeiner, a nurse and leader of the operation's medical subject-matter expert exchange teams.

"Disaster is chaotic enough," she continued. "All of the [Papua New Guinea] medical professionals know how to care for patients; we only try to show them how we organize in a crisis."

Appreciating that context of mutual reliance and assistance is critical to understanding the aid picture in the South Pacific, emphasizing cooperation amongst countries.

"We all have different outlooks, but in a situation like Pacific Angel, we have to consult with each other," said Philippine Army Capt. Donald Palmer, Philippines Medical Corps doctor. "We take our [national] experiences and turn them into multilateral ability, where each country can help the other."

Missions like Pacific Angel help local government and international aid agencies respond more quickly to crises within a country's borders and assume control of recovery more quickly in their wake, enabling them to better use the equipment, training and connections they already have.

For instance, Pacific Angel missions to Nepal in recent years helped more than 9,000 people in that country. More critically, the missions brought together the Nepalese, American, Australian and other military and civilian aid agencies who later formed the joint task force that responded to the devastation following the earthquake near Kathmandu weeks ago.

For many of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force members, all the disaster training and activity resonate strongly with experience.

"We've been through the real things, many times before," said PNGDF Maj. Wilson Andrews, Pacific Angel lead host nation planner.

This summer marks the eighth iteration of PACANGEL. The teams will be training in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief through June 8.