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West Virginia Guard, Peru trade tips on disaster response

By Sgt. Zoe Morris | West Virginia National Guard | Nov. 1, 2019

LIMA, Peru – The West Virginia Army National Guard (WVARNG) and Peruvian Army (PERAR) shared tips on responding to domestic emergencies and natural disasters Oct. 14-18 in a subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) as part of the State Partnership Program (SPP).

Leaders from WVARNG and PERAR shared their organization’s status and goals and discussed how the partnership can help both accomplish the same mission - saving lives and livelihoods of their communities in catastrophic natural disasters.

Both militaries have recently restructured to ease the process.

In 2018, a long-term goal came to fruition when West Virginia’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Watch Center, Emergency Operations Center, and the WVNG’s Joint Operations Center were brought under one roof, at the WVNG’s Joint Force Headquarters in Charleston, W.Va. The move was made to reduce the time and resources needed to respond to emergencies and strengthen relationships within state agencies.

At the same time, the PERAR stood up a multipurpose brigade, the first of its kind in the country, to respond to natural disasters. The PERAR also established the Amazon Protection Brigade to combat the environmental, socioeconomic and humanitarian impact of illegal mining and logging, deforestation, pollution and climate change that has led to forced migration and human trafficking in the country.

The multipurpose brigade grew from a 2016 Peru–U.S. Army staff talks executive committee meeting led by U.S. Army South, between the Army South Command Team and the Peruvian Army Command Team. The WVNG assisted as Peru’s SPP partner.

The similarities between West Virginia and Peru have led to SMEEs like this one. With a change in structure and mission focus comes a need to share doctrine and best practices.

Of course, behind every grand idea, there are officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) on the ground digging into the nuts and bolts, finding the tools needed to build the plan.

This was the purpose of the October SMEE, attended by U.S. Army Col. David Shafer, WVNG lead strategic plans officer with a background as an engineer and brigade commander, and U.S. Army Capt. Caroline Muriama, a WVNG logistics officer and 35th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) action officer.

PERAR Maj. Gen. Miguel Angel Garcia Salas hosted the SMEE, which was attended by about 60 Peruvian officers. Maj. Gen. Francisco Quevedo Mogollon, director of the National Army Development Support Directory, and Col. Cesar Augusto Flores Samguineti, commander of the multipurpose brigade, briefed on structure and priorities.

“For us, as the army, it’s a pleasure to be here and share our experience,” Garcia said. “It’s a pleasure to see young officers who are going to see the future of this world, and are learning for the future.”

While the mornings consisted of briefings by both contingents, a lot of time was spent discussing military/civilian contracts, engineering, field sanitation, supply chains, transportation and new chains of command.

Peru’s army is a first responder during disasters, and the WVNG is a support element, but surprisingly the discussions about funding and company-level response were similar and helped both sides lay the groundwork for future exercises.

“The multipurpose brigade demonstrated some intriguing tools for search and rescue,” Muriama said. “Given the opportunity, there would be great value to host a contingent and train together in an urban structural collapse scenario, wilderness flood/debris search-and-rescue response scenario. Learning is a continuous process and the more we can collaborate and learn from each other, the more enhanced our technical project plannings are.”

Shafer, who has participated in several SMEE’s, said this one was unique in that the logistics briefing led to quite a few actionable conversations that he hopes will result in an exchange of doctrine and training experiences.

“Logistics is the foundation that we rely upon,” he said. “The importance of planning, training, keeping supplies in the warehouse and at the unit cannot be overstated in times of emergency.”

Shafer said the WVNG plans around what resources would be needed based on population, business and infrastructure. The logistics team works many hours at the beginning of a disaster ordering supplies, he said, but the importance of contracts in saving time in an emergency is essential.

Col. Martin Hereida, a logistics officer, said the goal is to cover 124 companies of first responders and search and rescue in the most vulnerable places for disasters. The brigade is stationed in Lima but will be able to travel at short notice as needed.

The brigade can assist in civil operations - distribute water, supplies, vaccines, and pre-stage in areas under warning.

“We are always trying to improve our capabilities,” Hereida said.

In the massive 2006 earthquake in Pisco, Peru, Heredia commanded the transportation company that was first on the scene. He said they were able to get through because they were engineers and were able to make it over impassable roads. His soldiers brought first aid and helped in the aftermath, and that experience has motivated him to improve the first response system, he said.

“We have done a very big step in creating the multipurpose brigade, military-wise and civilian response side,” he said. “The needs are large and resources are limited, so everyone’s task is optimization, to satisfy the needs.”

Hereida and Shafer, both commanders who have led soldiers in times of natural disaster, reinforced the importance of critical thinking by officers and NCOs. They agreed their mission must focus on ensuring resources and training are synchronized between all entities during domestic operations.

“The Peruvians are resourceful and have an all-encompassing mission for their country, as we do,” Shafer said. “These relationships help solidify a deep partnership and exchange of actionable ideas as well as a cultural understanding and communication.”

West Virginia and Peru have been partners through the State Partnership Program since 1996, participating in more than 130 engagements focusing on regional challenges facing the Andean region – especially in counter-insurgency, anti-terrorism, emergency preparedness and disaster response and recovery.