MACDILL AFB, Fla., –
Combat operations have historically been a large part of USCENTCOM’s mission, but partner capacity-building and providing humanitarian aid to bolster prospects of sustainable stability are also key activities for USCENTCOM’s mission.
The USCENTCOM Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief, and Mine Action (HDM) program is a key security cooperation tool for CDR USCENTCOM to accomplish Theater Campaign Plan objectives in support of the National Security Strategy. USCENTCOM HDM activities are funded by the Department of Defense (DOD) Overseas Humanitarian Disaster and Civic Aid (OHDACA) appropriation managed by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency and allocated to USCENTCOM on an annual basis.
USCENTCOM HDM activities are intended to build the capacity of a partner nation (PN) and improve DOD visibility, access, and influence while addressing humanitarian needs. These activities are designed to be innovative, cost-effective means to achieve the commander’s objectives. They can be conducted as stand-alone projects, can complement other U.S. Government agency programs, or may be accomplished as part of broader whole-of-government stabilization efforts.
HDM activities are specifically intended to improve the living conditions of the civilian populace in countries or regions susceptible to violent extremism; enhance the legitimacy of the PN government by improving its capacity to provide essential services for its populace; promote interoperability and coalition-building with foreign military and civilian counterparts; generate long-term positive perceptions of the DOD and U.S. Government within PN institutions; and enhance security and promote enduring stability in countries or regions.
HQ USCENTCOM receives approximately $4-8 million of OHDACA each year and conducts projects ranging from $15 thousand to $1.5 million. Typical projects include purchases of disaster preparedness and medical equipment, renovations of medical clinics and schools, and provisions of shelter and construction supplies. These projects are typically developed, conducted, and assessed by deployed Civil Affairs (CA) and U.S. Embassy personnel.
Overall program management, policy guidance, and oversight of HDM program activities are accomplished by the HQ USCENTCOM Interagency Action Group Civil Affairs Operations (CAO) division.
HDM program manager Eric Nielsen and his branch currently manage projects affecting the populations and operations in Jordan, Lebanon, Tajikistan, and Syria.
“We’ve successfully used the program over the years to build partner capacity and gain access to places we may have not had otherwise, while addressing humanitarian needs and complementing activities of our Interagency partners” Nielsen said.
Nielsen has also been successful at operationalizing the HDM program with the ongoing Syrian crisis impacting most of the Greater Levant that includes Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq.
“We needed the ability to respond and fill a variety of urgent needs to support operational requirements and U.S. interests,” said Nielsen. “Working with our troops and partners downrange, we have been able to identify, develop, approve, and fund projects in a week or less.”
Nielsen cites Manbij, Syria as an example of the program’s success. ”Within days after the city was liberated from ISIL, we put a project through the system to purchase food, winterization, and school supplies for the local population to bridge the gap until humanitarian aid organizations can support them.”
CAO division is staffed by civil affairs officers and a team of contract personnel with expertise in policy, plans, operations, and program management.
The division recently administered a formal three-day training program to 31 CA personnel deploying to three sub-regions of the USCENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR), including the Arabian Peninsula, Greater Levant, and Central Asia States. Participants received detailed instruction on policy and processes, as well as performing a hands-on exercise simulating a real-world scenario. Personnel from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and U.S. Army Central also attended with intent to better understand how USCENTCOM uses OHDACA in one of the DOD’s busiest AORs.
“We’ve always made it a priority to sit down and discuss the program capabilities with folks before they went downrange. In 2013 we decided to formalize the training, teaching two to three classes each year since,” said Nielsen. “Ensuring personnel deploying have the tools they need when arrive in the AOR has been critical to success.”