Humanitarian Assistance: A Key Mission for USSOUTHCOM

By Dialogo
August 06, 2010

Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions are a key component of
the United States Southern Command’s (USSOUTHCOM) efforts
to strengthen regional cooperation and partnerships with Central and South America
and the Caribbean.
Humanitarian assistance missions provide health care and infrastructure to
communities of host nations, offering opportunities for the U.S. and participating
nations to work side-by-side, while disaster relief missions help prepare for and
respond to natural disasters and enhance the capacity to respond and recover when
disaster strikes.
The missions usually last several months and generally take place in rural
and underprivileged areas to provide services to those who need it most. The
exercises contribute to the sustainment of regional partnerships and support the
development of civilian infrastructure needed for economic and social
One such mission is New Horizons, an annual series of joint and combined
humanitarian assistance exercises launched in the mid-1980s by the U.S. Southern
Command in Latin America and Caribbean nations.
In June 2010, New Horizons got underway in Haiti as part the U.S. military’s
continued commitment to helping Haiti after a devastating earthquake shattered the
nation on January 12. Five hundred National Guard troops are part of the mission
responsible for building schools, improving water wells and providing medical care
in the vicinity of Gonaives until September 2010.
Continuing Promise, created in 2007, is another example of an annual civic
assistance exercise supported by the U.S. and international military medical
personnel in addition to U.S. government agencies, regional health ministries,
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and U.S. academic
Continuing Promise is an annual effort to bring health care, humanitarian
assistance and civic support to communities in Latin America and the Caribbean on
behalf of the American people. Comprised of U.S. military personnel, forces from
participating nations and civilian relief volunteers aboard a U.S. Navy ship, these
teams provide medical, surgical, dental and veterinary care throughout the region.
Continuing Promise also provides infrastructure and construction improvements, such
as building schools, clinics and churches, and repairing roads and water systems.

The 2010 mission began on July 12 when the USS Iwo
Jima set sail from Norfolk, Virginia. The four-month humanitarian and civic
assistance deployment is bringing health care and other relief services to
communities in eight Latin American and Caribbean nations.
The USS Iwo Jima arrived in Port de Paix, Haiti on
July 24 and remained there until Aug. 3. The mission is scheduled to visit Coveñas,
Colombia from Aug. 8-18; Limon, Costa Rica from Aug. 20-30; Puerto barrios,
Guatemala from Sept. 4-13; Blue Fields, Nicaragua from Sept. 15-25; Chiriquí Grande,
Panama from Sept. 27-Oct. 7; Georgetown, Guyana from Oct. 17-27; Paramaribo,
Suriname from Oct. 28-Nov. 10, returning to Norfolk, Virginia on November
Another mission visiting Latin America and the Caribbean during 2010 is
Southern Partnership Station, a naval deployment through which the USS New Orleans is conducting subject matter expert
exchanges, community relations projects, Project Handclasp deliveries, and sports
activities. Project Handclasp transports educational, humanitarian and goodwill
material on U.S. Navy ships to be distributed directly to needy recipients by U.S.
service personnel stationed overseas or embarked in U.S. Navy ships which visit
given areas.
Service members from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay
are deployed with the New Orleans to enhance the interaction between these
participating nations and the U.S. Navy. The ship recently visited Mexico and Peru,
and is currently in Bahía Málaga, Colombia until Aug. 18, ending its three-month
deployment with a final visit in Panama. Both the USS New
Orleans and the USS Iwo Jima will include emergency aid
teams that will carry out joint exercises with the Colombian Navy, as part of an
inter-operability initiative to prepare quick and effective responses to natural
disasters, particularly in view of the hurricane season that is approaching the
Caribbean region during the second half of 2010.

The visit of these units form part of multi-national humanitarian relief
exercises that are being carried out with the countries of the region, including
Operation Unitas and Operation Panamax which provide training for naval crews.