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European edition, Tuesday, May 15, 2007

EINSIEDLERHOF, Germany — When disaster strikes, the rush to help by various civilian and military organizations can easily turn into its own type of disaster without good communication and coordination.

Different approaches, personalities and cultures can lead to conflicts between civil and military groups.

Overcoming the challenges to provide help during a humanitarian crisis is part of what members of the 3rd Air Force are trying to learn during this year’s Flexible Leader exercise.

The exercise is not unlike past drills conducted by the military, but it’s significant for 3rd Air Force. This is the command’s first chance to see how well it can lead a combination of forces from different services. The command, based at Ramstein Air Base, reactivated six months ago to tackle the job of planning combat and humanitarian missions for the Air Force in Europe and Africa.

“I think the whole education of how a very complex system works makes it so much easier to be able to respond when, and I do say ‘when,’ the next humanitarian crisis occurs,” 3rd Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop said.

The Warrior Preparation Center, a joint war-gaming facility operated by the U.S. Army in Europe and U.S. Air Forces in Europe, is hosting a portion of the exercise, which involves 2,000 people.

The major players acted out different exercise scenarios in a building that looks much like a generic warehouse. Temporary partitions separated a makeshift command-and-control room from where fake press conferences were held to allow top officers to practice answering questions from the press.

Participants faced a scenario involving a pair of earthquakes hitting the Izmir, Turkey, area in less than a week. Servicemembers from the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Navy must find a way to gather and deliver humanitarian aid while overcoming a number of obstacles.

The exercise is serving as an opportunity for 3rd Air Force to become “certified” as the leader of a joint task force. Naval Forces Europe/6th Fleet gained its certification last year by leading an operation to evacuate U.S. citizens from Lebanon.

Air Force Master Sgt. Mike Luhmann said the exercise gives members of the 3rd Air Force the chance to work alongside members of other services.

“It’s a real good learning experience,” said Luhmann, who is assigned to 3rd Air Force. “It allows just an overall look on how the joint operation works.”

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