Vanuatu and other South Pacific partners prepare effective responses to natural disasters

With its stately pine trees and sparkling blue waters, the South Pacific island and French territory of New Caledonia evokes the aura of a hidden paradise for beachgoers and snorkelers.

For the members of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 9th Mission Support Command, however, their time on New Caledonia was spent hunkered down in conference rooms, working with NATO allies and other partner nations to coordinate responses to a hypothetical natural disaster during Exercise Equateur 2017.

The annual Equateur exercises began in the late 1990s, and has grown to include a variety of partner nations. This year, troops from Australia, Canada, Fiji, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Vanuatu, the United Kingdom and the United States participated in the exercise.

This year’s training scenario split New Caledonia up into three hypothetical countries: the North Federation, the United Islands of Koryphon, and the Republic of Thaery. In the scenario, the North Federation was hit by an enormous tsunami, which left thousands of displaced citizens requiring humanitarian aid. There were also imaginary militia factions present in the scenario, which added an extra layer of challenge to the exercise.

Exercise Equateur also provided a realistic training scenario in light of recent natural disasters occurring in the United States, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. As an island positioned between Australia and Fiji, New Caledonia is also susceptible to natural disasters that could involve massive storms and flooding.

The 9th Mission Support Command’s officer in charge, Lt. Col. Jeremy Wasilewski, who also served as the exercise’s Deputy Director External Evaluator, has been participating the Equateur series for three years and continues to gain new technical experience and guidance with each iteration.

“This training is very important to maintain our relationships in the Pacific with our partners and allies,” said Wasilewski. “This allows us to learn their techniques and develop points of contacts in case there ever were a real disaster in the area, which would allow us to react and assist if ever needed.

“On the surface, there are obviously language issues; and believe it or not, even with other English speaking nations,” added Wasilewski. “Some of the terms that Americans use are different from what the British may use, or the Australians and so on. However, when you dig deeper into it, we all try to use a common NATO doctrine. So, it’s really interesting during the planning phase when each country brings their own flavor to it, if you will, and we all learn from that.”

The officer in charge of the entire exercise was French Air Force Col. Dominique Tardif, who is the air force base commander for the island as well.

“I feel this exercise is very important to improve the working relationship between the nations here in the southwest Pacific,” said Tardif. “In addition, as French troops rotate through this assignment here in New Caledonia, it’s important they begin working with officers from other nations to grow as leaders.

“The planning phase went really well, and the different nation’s officers worked very well together,” he added. “These past two weeks have been very successful, and I feel confident in our ability to work with other nations in case a real disaster should ever strike.”

Exercise Equateur also laid the groundwork for a larger exercise that will take place on the island in May 2018, when hundreds of ground forces will arrive for Exercise Croix Du Sud 2018.

Author

Yumi Toktok Stret

Yumi Toktok Stret reporter. based in Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands, PNG, Australia, New Zealand, USA, England, South America, Middle East.

Profile used by various journalist around the region.