Planning for Disaster in Africa

Maj. Natosha Reed, right, US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa theater security cooperation operations planner, helps participants of the African Partnership Flight with meals ready to eat near Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, April 17, 2017. USAF photo by SSgt. Jonathan Snyder.

Jennifer Hlad

About two dozen American airmen and about 60 airmen from several African nations recently participated in an event designed to share best practices for maintenance and logistics in a humanitarian assistance or disaster relief situation.

African Partnership Flight Burkina Faso—the 10th APF the USAF has done in the last five years—was, like all APFs, focused on building the capacity of US partners in Africa, said Col. Ric Trimillos, chief for the international affairs division for USAFE-AFAFRICA.

Burkina Faso, the host nation, chose the humanitarian assistance disaster relief theme, but the event was all work-group based, Trimillos said.

“We’re not teaching them, we’re facilitating this work group, so that way the best practices between the countries come out. And more importantly, the African partners are building relationships between each other, and they know what each other is capable of doing,” Trimillos explained. “We’re really working to enable Africans to solve African problems.”

The participants were from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, with airmen from Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire observing, Trimillos said.

The countries all have different capabilities and different experiences, said Capt. Robert Kent of the 305th Aerial Port Squadron.

“Hearing how each one would address certain things or what they look for, and kind of how the US does things … the goal of it was just to share communication, build those relationships,” Kent said.

One of the “biggest focus items” was building and sustaining good relationships with other countries, because in the event of a humanitarian assistance or disaster relief situation, they are likely to need help from other nations, Kent added.

Trimillos said the point of APF is not just building aviation capacity, but enhancing the regional cooperation, and increasing their interoperability with each other.

“That’s the big goal,” he said, “because we believe as a foundational concept that if the African nations are working together, that builds more stability to the region.”

Capt. Megan Gallagher of the 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadrons said the first two days of the APF were focused on sharing ideas about how to prepare in terms of maintenance and logistics for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations across the continent.

The event ended with a tabletop exercise in which participants were divided into small groups—with no more than one person from any given country in each group—to plan for how to get people and cargo moved in a specific disaster situation.

“That tabletop exercise, I mean, honestly, it was a huge success. The amount of information they were sharing amongst themselves,” was fantastic, and it showed everyone the strengths of each of the countries, Gallagher said.

The US represented the host nation government in the exercise, so the groups had to “reach out” to the host nation for authorizations and permissions, just like they would in a real-world situation, she said.

Kent said that when the participants got into the exercise, they were “planning like they were actually going someplace,” sometimes going deeper into the weeds than anyone had expected.

That “really shows how seriously a lot of these countries took it, and how invested they are in trying to get everyone on the same level, share the ideas,” Kent noted.

And that was the goal of the APF, Trimillos said.

“We’re actually helping develop their planning, and looking to the future, so that way, they can put plans on the shelf. And when a crisis happens, they already have something in mind on how they want to do it, instead of just reacting,” he said.