S. Asia support force chief credits training, past efforts for success of relief mission
January 23, 2005
UTAPAO, Thailand — Three weeks after leading a humanitarian mission to help Philippine communities dig their way out of disastrous mudslides, Brig. Gen. Kenneth J. Glueck is watching a new mission unfold.
Glueck led Joint Task Force 535 in the Philippines. At the onset of the task force, the precursor to the current South Asia relief mission, he served as deputy commander. He now directs operations for Combined Support Force 536.
“The mission to the Philippines was really a good preparation mission for this one,” Glueck said recently at the CSF headquarters in Utapao. “A lot of the same tools needed to do this mission were used in the Philippines but on a much smaller scale.”
In the Philippines, Marine heavy-lift CH-53 and CH-46 helicopters, assisted by Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, delivered aid to communities isolated by mudslides and storms.
Offshore, the USS Fort McHenry stood by to fuel the helicopters.
In the current mission, most of the same helicopters and personnel are at work. The Fort McHenry is hosting many of the Marine helicopters that fly daily missions to Indonesia. Many of the 660 servicemembers who worked in the Philippines are now in South Asia.
The similarities are obvious, as is the main difference: the massive scale of the operation in South Asia, which includes hundreds of isolated areas and devastated cities in several countries and thousands more servicemembers.
But the mission has other differences, as well as distinct challenges, Glueck said. “In the Philippines it was for the most part just the United States and the Philippines. This particular one is very multinational in flavor. The coordination is much bigger to make sure you get that focused effort.”
The current operation also involves unfamiliar territories in Indonesia and the introduction of nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. In the mix are different viewpoints and ways of doing business.
Part of the challenge, Glueck said, has been adapting to the needs of the nonmilitary entities.
“There’s a lot more coordination required, particularly if you’re going to use the multinational assets,” he said. “We make changes every day. Some are just process changes. If [the U.N. or U.S. Agency for International Development] need changes, how do they feed it into the system to end up getting the result at the other end? We continually tweaked that system to make it more responsive” to them. “Because of that I think we have an actual stronger alliance between everyone that’s here.”
U.S. military leaders had less trouble coordinating with the militaries of some nations participating, Glueck said, because they practice that coordination during regional exercises such as Cobra Gold, held each year in Thailand. He said the U.S. military is aided by a strong relationship with Thailand and especially Singapore, which is helping to coordinate with leaders in Indonesia.
“The Sings, being neighbors with the Indonesians, were incredible enablers to help us to accomplish our mission,” Glueck said. “The relationships that we have with some of the senior officers, from Cobra Gold, those are the same officers who today are in Indonesia. They can help us to be better able to accomplish our mission.”
Indonesia proved challenging in part because the United States stopped holding training exercises with that nation a decade ago.
“It’s a little more complicated because we haven’t had any experience working in the Indonesian theater,” Glueck said. “No one had deployed to Banda Aceh before. No one had deployed to Meulaboh. So every one of those places, when you go in there you have to start from scratch. There was no one that had experience, knowing the airfields, the towns, the threat conditions in the country at the particular time. So it was a building-block approach to get it where it needed to be.”
The relief effort, he said, “will definitely open the door for improved security cooperation and engagement in the years to come.
“I think it demonstrates that the American people will respond to any nation in crisis around the world. … Even though we did not have good exercise schedules and engagement strategies with these particular nations, we showed up and did the job for them and demonstrated the will of the American people.”