CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief is a likely scenario for any of the seven Marine expeditionary units. Whether at home or abroad, MEUs have been relied upon to rapidly ease pain and suffering in crises.
Combat Logistics Battalion 11, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s combat service support element, trained for that very mission March 4-6 at the Range 130 urban training facility here.
In recent history, MEUs have deployed to numerous countries around the world in times of need. The 11th MEU assisted in two natural disasters during its last two deployments. The Marines and sailors responded to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Bangladesh in 2007 to provide humanitarian aid.
“Humanitarian missions have been the MEU’s bread and butter,” said Lt. Col. James Hensien, CLB-11’s commanding officer. “It’s one of the most realistic missions that we are likely to encounter.”
Role players and an unknown training scenario presented the Marines and sailors of CLB-11 with a situation full of possible pitfalls where quick decisions meant the difference between mission success and failure.
“The most difficult part of planning for (humanitarian assistance) is uncertainty,” Hensien said. “We don’t always know what the situation on the ground is going to look like until we get there.”
Before sending in an armada of personnel and equipment, the CLB sent in a small team to assess the needs of the people and report those findings back to the MEU.
“How many people are in need? Exactly what do they need? Is it food, water, or medical?” Hensien said. “We have to bring enough capability to respond to what we think the crisis is.”
With a better sense of the situation, the Marines and sailors put together appropriate resources and were on their way – but not before the security element.
“The first thing we focus on, regardless of the mission, is security posture,” Hensien said. “How can I be reinforced if I need it?”
With the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, close by to respond to security issues that might arise, the Marines and sailors with CLB could focus on providing aid.
The role players, many who have only been in the U.S. for a few months, added some friction to the scenario and kept showing up with new illnesses for the medical team to treat.
“From the medical standpoint, the hardest part of any humanitarian mission is the language barrier,” said Seaman Dustin Banks, a corpsman with CLB-11 and a Simi Valley, Calif., native. “Communicating with the sick or injured person is crucial in helping them.”
Banks said training scenarios like the one CLB-11 underwent was invaluable in getting the medical personnel in the right mindset to deploy.
“There is a requirement for us to build relationships, friendships and trust, and that takes interaction,” Hensien said. “One great way to interact with people from other countries is to offer them something tangible that they need, that can help them and help their citizens be a little more comfortable.”