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Pacific Lifeline prepares PACAF humaitarian

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- In the aftermath of a devastating typhoon or earthquake, immediate humanitarian response is crucial.

Lives may be lost. Thousands may be injured and entire towns leveled. Tsunamis like the one that recently hit the Solomon Islands or the massive storm that devastated Indonesia in December 2004 emphasize the urgent need for immediate response when injuries or the threat of disease may be widespread.

The U.S. Air Force stands ready to provide humanitarian assistance and medical care, and now, more than ever before, Airmen have the tools and techniques to put the right stuff in the right place at the right time.

The Air Force recently developed an innovative, stand-alone humanitarian medical package to support contingency disaster-response efforts: the Humanitarian Relief Operations Operational Capability Package, or HUMRO OCP.

Pacific Air Forces is taking the lead in Pacific Command, preparing to test the capability with an intensive two-week exercise called Pacific Lifeline.

It is in the planning stages now, with a projected starting date of Jan. 27, 2008, according to Lt. Col. Bob Edwards, 13th Air Force deputy surgeon and the exercise chief for Pacific Lifeline.

"It's designed to be a showcase for medical support capability with integrated combat support," he says. That integration is a unique aspect of the exercise.

In the past, medical facilities have generally been set up at an established location, where the hospital could rely on existing support functions - food, shelter, protection - from the base. The new HUMRO OCP is a stand-alone, self-sufficient "off the shelf" package designed for quick deployment anywhere in the area of operations, whether an air base is located close by or not.

The "stand alone" hospital includes complete diagnostic and surgical capability in a 25-bed facility with all required base-operating support built in. Estimated personnel to run the facility includes approximately 90 medical staff and 150 support Airmen - security forces, civil engineers, base services, and so on.

One element that makes the HUMRO OCP unique is that "the medics have the lead," according to the colonel. "This is a 'first.'"

"The exercise puts theory to practice," says Maj. Ken Burkett, PACAF's chief of medical readiness and training. "Great idea ... now we're going to put it to the test. And what better way than through a well-developed field exercise?"

Pacific Lifeline will test the full range of the package and answer some critical questions: "Do we have the right numbers and the right capabilities to accomplish the mission?" the colonel says.

The exercise scenario calls for the OCP to be deployed to a typhoon-devastated area somewhere in the Pacific area of operations. Pacific Lifeline "will integrate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief with the crisis-response force based on HUMRO OCP," says Colonel Edwards.

The exercise will test the entire operation - deployment, set-up, and operation of the medical facility. It will be spread across three islands: Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii (the Big Island).

"Hawaii is an ideal location for the exercise," Major Burkett says. "Our area of responsibility is comprised of many island nations."

And with the largest AOR in the world, PACAF is the ideal command to test the capability. PACAF's commitment to ensuring regional security and stability includes humanitarian support and disaster response.

Thirteenth Air Force has the lead for Pacific Lifeline, but it is a Total Force exercise involving active-duty, reserve and National Guard Airmen. PACAF units will be tasked first to provide players, and any taskings that PACAF cannot meet will be offered to other units.

The concept of the HUMRO OCP has been in place since December 2006, when Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley issued a memorandum outlining the concept and its use in support of national military strategy, the Department of Defense's Theater Security Cooperation Strategy, and State Department nation-building programs.

The Air Force Surgeon General's Office developed the package. The impact of such capability is designed to be immediate: to provide on-the-scene medical care for the local population in an area hit by a natural disaster.

If the hospital were to deploy in response to a real-world disaster, the Secretary of Defense would notify the Air Force of the need to activate the hospital. Upon notification, the hospital package - with all required Airmen - is expected to be en route to its destination within 24 hours.

When the medical providers arrive at the scene, they can begin seeing some patients almost immediately. Basic capability is to be established within 12 to 24 hours, and full operational capability within 36 hours.

The hospital is designed to deploy into a friendly area where the risk of chemical attack or hostile fire is low and some local infrastructure is available to provide additional support - including local law enforcement to control civil situations.

After 90 days, the hospital is designed to transition in its entirety to the host nation to operate as necessary.

"The medical package can be left behind - including facilities, supplies, equipment, and the training required" to operate the hospital, Colonel Edwards says. Assigned Airmen would train local medical personnel to run the hospital and all equipment as part of the handover to the host nation.

The physical resources are already pre-positioned at forward locations within PACAF's area of operations. Personnel to run the hospital and carry out required support functions will be tapped from PACAF units and other agencies to fill the requirements.

New ideas frequently take time to catch on in the military, but the HUMRO OCP concept has taken root quickly.

"PACAF is out front with Pacific Lifeline '08," Major Burkett says.

"We're making history," Colonel Edwards says. The exercise is "a progress report to show Air Force capability. We'll test it and then get it out the door."