Washington Guard in China

By Staff Sgt. Michael Behlin on December 2, 2016

KUNMING, China - Servicemembers and civilians from across the U.S. Army Pacific, including here in Washington state, participated alongside members of the Peoples Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China for the 12th annual U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange Nov. 13-19 at Kunming, China.

The DME allowed the participants the opportunity to share humanitarian aid/disaster response lessons learned from real-world events to further develop the capacity to cooperate in the Pacific region. With both countries susceptible to major natural disasters, the event was a great opportunity to improve the abilities of both militaries to respond cooperatively.

Gen. Robert B. Brown, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, said that he was confident the participants would benefit from the exchange, giving their individual skills and building collective capability.

"This event has evolved through the years to the point where it serves as an inspiration for what we can accomplish if we work together," said Brown. "Since its inception nineteen years ago, this disaster management exchange has made gradual gains that have ultimately helped us get to this point. It remains undeniably clear that when we work side-by-side to solve problems and strengthen our partnership with one another, we assure peace, prosperity and security."

Throughout the exchange, leaders and experts from the PLA, USARPAC, 8th Theater Sustainment Command and 130th Engineer Brigade, visited various agencies involved with disaster management to include the Experimental Base of Seismological Bureau of the Yunnan Province, the Command Center of Civil Affairs Disaster Relief of Yunnan Province, emergency shelters in Baohai Park and the Kunming Reserve Base of Civil Affairs.

During the visits, the personnel held dialogue and exchanged information regarding civil affairs, disaster relief and how they will work together to improve their ability to save lives, protect property and collectively better prepare for the next major disaster in the Asia-Pacific.

"This kind of exchange acts as a bridge to promote relations between the two militaries, and I am sure it will be conducted in an even higher level in the future," said Lt. Gen. Liu Xaiowu, commander of PLA's Southern Theater Command.

The DME consisted of several stages that included an expert academic exchange, a command post exchange and practical field training exchange, all responding to the impacts of a devastating earthquake in a fictitious country.

"Being able to share ideas during the command post exchange and see my soldiers demonstrate some of their skills and equipment capabilities during the practical field exchange were invaluable experiences," said Col. Danielle Ngo, commander of the 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command.

Each stage was strategically designed to foster communications and the sharing of knowledge and skills between soldiers of the PLA and USARPAC.

Representatives from USARPAC, 8th TSC, 130th Engineer Brigade; the Northern Warfare Training Center, 18th Medical Command; and Pacific Ocean Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, worked daily throughout the DME to develop relationships with their Chinese counterparts. Also attending the DME were soldiers and representatives from the 19th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 141st Civil Engineer Squadron of the Washington Air National Guard, Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, Seattle District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Aid and 311th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).

"If a disaster is large in scope and scale, there is a higher probability that more than one nation's military will be involved," said Ngo. "That is why it is so important to have activities like the DME to strengthen our relationships, improve our ability to save lives and collectively better prepare for the next major disaster in the Asia-Pacific."

Upon completion, the soldiers of both the PLA and USARPAC considered the exchange of skills and information to be a valuable experience in preparation for future natural disasters.

"It has been a very successful exchange of ideas between our two militaries and it will definitely benefit us in the future," said Cpt. Jeremy Reynolds, S4 officer in charge for the 84th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade.