SAN DIEGO, Calif. – In October 2007, large-scale wildfires spread across Southern California. Civilian firefighting agencies were overwhelmed, combating the fires, beyond their capabilities. At the time, policy for requesting support from military assets was not widely or clearly understood and standing operating procedures for Marine Corps units did not address some aspects of interagency operations. In response, the Department of Defense made efforts to improve cooperation, according to the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned.
In an effort to continue building the relationships established in recent years, senior leaders from the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard came together with local, state and federal civilian agencies, including Cal Fire and FEMA Region IX, to discuss Defense Support of Civil Authorities during a two-day conference across military installations in San Diego, Calif., April 29-30, 2014.
The event provided the opportunity for supporting agencies, partners and stakeholders to meet and discuss ideas that would reinforce relations and garner awareness of support goals and supporting agency abilities during local and national disasters.
“It’s not if [another disaster is] going to happen; it’s when it’s going to happen,” said Maj. Shawn Grzybowski, operations officer, Headquarters Regiment, 1st Marine Logistics Group. “California will eventually have another major disaster. This is one of the very first steps of bringing the Navy and Marine Corps team to meet with those different agencies that we may be working with in the event of a disaster.”
Brigadier Gen. Vincent A. Coglianese, commanding general, 1st MLG, opened the summit, emphasizing the importance of cooperation.
“Relationships are key; they’re money in the bank,” said Coglianese. “When a disaster happens, it’s about calling someone you know and being able to work out the details, cutting through the red tape. What I look forward to this week is that relationship building and for us to understand more about the incident response framework that we have to work in.”
The blue-green team, including servicemembers from the Third Fleet, I Marine Expeditionary Force and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, educated attendees about existing and future capabilities to support disaster relief through conferences and displays of military tactical vehicle, aircraft and equipment.
Marines and sailors with 1st MLG displayed their ability to support operations through engineering, medical and dental aid, transportation, supply and maintenance through static displays and dynamic demonstrations aboard USS San Diego and Naval Base Coronado.
“From my aspect, we’re showing our capabilities of coming from a ship onto a [Landing Craft Utility] and coming off an LCU onto a beach to provide any kind of disaster relief, including purified water and electricity,” said Sgt. Jeremy Lea, electrician, Support Company, 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st MLG. “With these displays, [the civil agencies] see what our assets are and get a visual of those assets in-action. It shows that we are more than just a war-fighting organization. We can provide assistance to even our own country if need be,” added the 28-year-old native of Knoxville, Tenn.
Other displays included: tactical vehicles aboard the USS San Diego by Headquarters Regiment, 1st MLG; Marine and Naval aircraft including MV-22 Ospreys and the MH-60 with a firefighting Bambi Bucket, used to fight wildfires; and the Forward Resuscitative Surgical System and Shock Trauma Platoon, which is capable of providing surgery-level care, by 1st Medical Battalion, 1st MLG.
After a final discussion, Vice Admiral Kenneth E. Floyd, commander, Third Fleet, and Lieutenant Gen. John A. Toolan, commanding general, I MEF, gave closing remarks. With the conclusion of the conference, thoughts were set on the near future. It seemed very likely that the agencies would be working together soon.
“We know with this [Southern California] drought, this fire season is going to be bad,” said Coglianese. “It’s just a matter of time before a pandemic, earthquake, you name it, is going to happen. We’re going to go back to those relationships and we’re going to respond with the Navy and Marine Corps team.”