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Military Humanitarian Aid
When you think of the US Army, or any of the branches of service for that matter, you probably conjure up thoughts of war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan; but I want to introduce the kinder, gentler side of the military I know. As an Army Reserve physician, I am aware of many humanitarian missions that are ongoing across the globe. These are usually joint-service operations and include personnel from the Navy, Airforce and Marine Corps. The operations usually have both a humanitarian component as well as a joint training component with the host nation.
Despite ongoing intense operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands of American military members continue to give their all in humanitarian and peacekeeping work around the globe. The goal is to help with stabilization of these typically poor countries where political turmoil or natural disaster has been prevalent and to promote economic prosperity and self-reliance.
Everyone is familiar with the earthquake disaster that further thrust Haiti into the chasm of poverty and disorder, but they may not realize just how much the military contributed to the medical issues that were front and center. This effort did not end when the news coverage went away, and tens of thousands of Haitians continue to be treated for medical issues at various sites around the Island. The patients not only receive medications but also public health information to help them help themselves in a sustainable way. The medical teams generally consist of military family practice providers, internal medicine doctors, pediatricians, women's health specialists, dentist and optometrists.
On the other side of the world, Operation Africa Lion provides medical care in Morocco. A mixed goup of US military personnel from all branches of service and their colleagues from the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces combine to give medical care to five villages as part of the Humanitarian and Civic Assistance portion of the exercise.
In the Philippines, Operation Balikatan is a recurrent joint mission in which the US Army surgeon's and the Armed Forces of the Philippines Nurse Corps work together to exchange the latest medical advances including advanced cardiac life support skills, tactical nurse combat care and treatment of blast trauma. Humanitarian assistance projects are a part of that effort in the surrounding communities where free medical, dental and veterinary care are offered. In addition to the medical support, the military engineers build and repair schools and contribute to other civic projects in these poor communities.
Most impressive is the US Military's Humanitarian Mission Dire Dawa in Ethiopia. Parasite infestation is a common problem and a big contributor to malnutrition. Simply by supplying anti-parasite medication to the populace, the US hopes to gain the trust and good will of the people. This type of aid could potentially lessen the chance that terrorist groups would be able to maintain a stronghold. In the words of Marine Corps Major General Timothy Ghormley spoken in 2005 regarding humanitarian efforts in Africa, "we’re waging peace, and we’re waging it as hard as we can.” He thought of humanitarian work as being every bit as important a weapon in the efforts to combat terrorism.
The National Military Strategic Plan for the war on terrorism has agreed with MG Ghormley and puts humanitarian efforts in the forefront as a method of countering the foothold of terror groups around the world. "The considerable capabilities of the armed forces of the United States to alleviate suffering in times of hardship provide opportunities to influence the way people perceive their situation and their environment,” says the Strategic Plan.
American military service personnel have been engaged in humanitarian projects for at least a century, so this idea is nothing new. It is simply not in the media limelight very often. More recent efforts include the 2004 tsunami that demolished South Asia, the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, and so many more missions that they cannot all be easily named. In any given year, the US military conducts humanitarian projects in nearly 100 nations, proof positive of a softer side to my Army, my military, my United States.