U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) is deploying its humanitarian arm in Central America to strengthen response capabilities and halt the rapid spread of COVID-19.
JTF-Bravo is sending health supplies to protect doctors, nurses, service members, and police forces. This aid began to reach the region in early April. El Salvador was one of the first countries to receive U.S. support, with deliveries of basic health supplies to stock up containment centers, where people potentially infected with COVID-19 receive treatment.
The United States has also sent food rations to service members in the field who prevent people from evading health controls. “The Sumpul Command, deployed in more than 186 illegal border crossings, received meals ready-to-eat donated by the U.S. military,” said Salvadoran Naval Force Rear Admiral René Merino, El Salvador’s minister of Defense. “They have also sent disinfecting gel and masks, because personnel are in contact with many people every day.”
JTF-Bravo practiced setting up a field hospital to care for its COVID-19 patients internally, if it were to be needed, at its José Enrique Soto Cano Air Base headquarters in Comayagua, Honduras. This would allow them to avoid burdening the local health system. According to a press release, their Army Forces Battalion has also rehearsed a plan to treat and evacuate infected service members, while the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment has been conducting humanitarian assistance training and demonstrating its ability to mobilize forces when needed during a crisis.
Months before the virus was detected in the region, several armed forces refreshed their knowledge in emergency interoperability.
“The best strengths our military provides are the tangible U.S. commitment to alleviate human suffering and for people to know that they will receive the help they need,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Laura Miller, JTF-Bravo’s Civil Affairs officer in Honduras.
An example of this assistance was the Vita exercise, conducted in La Guajira region of Colombia in March 2020, to offer preventive care, and public health, pharmacy, and dentistry services.
“We have significantly increased the task force’s readiness to execute humanitarian assistance operations in austere environments, which is particularly critical, because aviation crews needed to become familiar with the unique demands of flying over mountainous and desert terrain,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Bob Yerkey, head of Operations for JTF-Bravo. “Our civil and medical affairs staff has made valuable contacts that will prove essential in future humanitarian assistance operations.”
In another exercise in Panama’s Darién province, conducted in December 2019, JTF-Bravo and Panama’s Public Force worked to respond to a simulated disaster following a natural event. “This exercise became a forum for various agencies to come together and solve problems, such as displacement of people, food assistance, and humanitarian supplies to communities,” said Lt. Col. Miller, who led the exercise. “We not only strengthened ties between countries, but also between civilian and military response agencies. [It’s] a cooperation effort currently being put into practice.”
“All the above are on top of the numerous medical preparation exercises and other activities that we coordinate in the region. By working with partner nations’ forces, we are prepared to face together the challenges of today and tomorrow,” said U.S. Air Force Captain Beau Downey, head of JTF-Bravo’s Public Affairs. “The most relevant competency both sides get is interoperability; we build relationships with each other and learn where contact points are, so as to use them quickly during a crisis.”