WARRENTON, Ore. - "Earthquake, earthquake, earthquake!" is shouted overhead, prompting Chinese and American military search and extraction teams to immediately sprint into action. Working together, they must quickly find and rescue disaster victims scattered throughout the village. They pay no attention to the rain on their faces or the flags worn on their uniforms as shoulder-to-shoulder they carry litters of wounded casualties to safety.
The disaster was notional, the casualties were mannequins, and the endangered village was a rain-drenched training area at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center along the coast near Warrenton, Ore. Engineers and medics from the Oregon National Guard and Joint Logistics Force Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) worked alongside each other to share disaster response capabilities during the 13th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange (DME), Nov. 16-19, 2017.
U.S. Army Pacific hosts the annual U.S.-China DME to foster mutual trust and understanding with the PLA while sharing lessons learned to increase disaster response capabilities in the Pacific region.
"You don't want to wait to form relationships during a crisis, you must do it beforehand and that's why this is so important," said Gen. Robert B. Brown, U.S. Army Pacific commanding general.
This year, the DME consisted of an expert academic discussion (EAD), a tabletop exchange (TTE) with a Multinational Coordination Center (MNCC), and a practical field exchange (PFE) to enable hands-on and side-by-side interaction between U.S. and PLA Soldiers. The DME scenario simulated response to a third country suffering from severe flooding and was based on real world damage assessments from the Spring 2017 flooding in Peru.
"By sharing our experiences, techniques and best practices we all improve our ability to respond quickly and effectively – because ultimately this is about saving lives and minimizing human suffering in disaster zones," said Brown.
More than 20 Oregon National Guard Soldiers and Airmen participated in the PFE, including vertical engineers of the 442nd Engineer Utility Detachment (EUD) and medics of Detachment 1, 142nd Medical Group. They are part of the search and extraction team for the CBRNE Enhance Response Force Package (CERFP), which is trained to respond to large-scale disasters in the Pacific Northwest region.
"We all have emergencies and we're responsible for taking care of our communities and our citizens," said Col. Leah Sundquist, chief of staff for the Oregon Army National Guard. "This allows for a military to military engagement where both countries can show expertise in how they do rescue activities."
Oregon Army National Guard 1st Lt. Caleb Tomulty, training and operations officer for the CERFP, led the Oregon search and extraction team during the DME. He said his team was very excited to work with the Chinese.
"Overall, the experience and enjoyment of working with another country is a huge opportunity that we don't often get the chance to do as National Guardsmen," he said.
The first day of the PFE focused on urban searches, locating and extracting casualties in different scenarios. The second day focused on shoring; building walled structures to temporarily support weak buildings in danger of collapse. The third day consisted of breaching and breaking techniques using drills, power saws and jackhammers to access confined spaces where casualties are trapped.
"I think this DME is very good for my team because we learn new ways we can save the people," said PLA Cpl. Wang RunZe. "U.S. Soldier is very friendly. We can study each other and learn many new ways from each other. We have different ways to do search and rescues. We are both students."
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Nason, of the 442nd EUD, echoed the mutual learning opportunity, "They've been eager to learn from us and to show us their techniques," he said. "They have impressed us at every turn and we've learned some really great things from them that we can incorporate ourselves."
The Oregonians learned new methods to locate survivors trapped underneath the rubble. They said they were impressed by how patient and disciplined the PLA Soldiers were in conducting methodical and synchronized searches.
"It was really cool getting to see what they do," said Staff Sgt. Virgil Newberry, 442nd EUD detachment sergeant. "They had no wasted movement, every movement had purpose."
The PLA soldiers said they appreciated the Americans for their efficiency and adaptability.
"Even in the most emergent situation, we do the job step by step according to our rules and training," said PLA Lt. Mo SiHua. "The American side does their job very flexible. They can make the plan according to the situation and can change the plan any time the situation is changed."
SiHua said another takeaway for the PLA team was the concept of using a casualty collection point (CCP) to gather the injured in one location for triage and evacuation.
"The casualties who can walk by themselves on their own to the CCP save rescue resources and improve the rescue efficiency," SiHua said.
The Oregon Guard and PLA teams took turns showing each other their techniques and then combined into mixed teams to work together.
"We mixed groups with them and we had to do the job together, that was the most difficult on both sides," said SiHua. "We dealt with difficulties because we have to communicate with gestures and eye contact."
Spc. Philip Costa, with the 442nd EUD, said everyone started out shy, but by the end of the exchange they were laughing together.
"The cohesion has just been incredible," he said. "This is the first time in my military career that I've worked in this fashion with a foreign country and it's been a great experience. I'm glad that we are getting this opportunity."
Despite the cold, rainy weather and navigating the language barrier, the participants remained positive and gained more than just search and rescue knowledge.
"Americans are very friendly and warm and considerate," said SiHua. "They make us feel very welcome."
Nason said he appreciated the chance to learn about the Chinese culture from their perspective.
"Everybody just wants to get to know each other and they are really open and friendly," he said. "We are all literally the same, we are all Soldiers only the nation is different."
They were curious about their differences, but bonded over the things they had in common.
"It really opens your eyes to who they are versus what your expectations might be," said Tomulty. "They're wonderful people and just like us they've got families back at home that are missing them."
Since 2005, the DME has been held at locations in Hawaii, Washington, D.C., New York, Washington and multiple areas in China. This was the first year the exchange was held in Oregon.
In addition to providing a learning opportunity for the U.S. and PLA Army participants, this year the DME included military and government observers from Bangladesh, Canada, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and the People's Republic of China.
Other U.S. participants included U.S. Army Pacific, the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, the United States Military Academy (USMA), the 351st Civil Affairs Command, the 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), the 571st Sapper Company, the U.S Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland District, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Pacific Disaster Center, an applied research center managed by the University of Hawaii.