When disaster strikes, whether it be a hurri- cane, tsunami or devastating earthquake, you can count on one entity being on the
scene almost immediately: the U.S. Navy.
The recent earthquake that killed more than 9,000
people and shattered infrastructure in Nepal illustrates
just how big a role the U.S. military has taken in disaster
response and relief, and how much world governments
have come to depend on U.S. help. And in the last
decade or so, the Navy-Marine Corps team has gotten
plenty of opportunities to show its worth in that arena.
With so much responsibility falling on the
Department of the Navy’s shoulders, often as the lead
agency in these disaster relief efforts, it has attempted to
evolve in terms of technology and as an organization.
CAPT Brian Finman, who is the deputy chief of staff
for Amphibious Task Force 76 in U.S. Seventh Fleet, told
Seapower that the Navy’s role in Nepal was not as signif-
icant as recent tragedies, such as the typhoon that struck
the Philippines in late 2013 and in disasters before that,
because Nepal is a landlocked
nation. But the sea service still plays
a major role even when the devasta-
tion is a thousand miles inland.
“When a disaster happens, the
first thing we do is look at where
the nearest ports are,” Finman
said. “The Navy response was lim-
ited to posturing a maritime patrol
aircraft to help with the surveil-
lance and reconnaissance effort.”
The Marine Corps, however,
with its versatile V- 22 Osprey tiltro-
tor as well as upgraded UH-1Y light
utility helicopters, was able to
make a major contribution to the
response thanks to being already
forward-deployed and having the
tools necessary to respond quickly.
Even then, the mission can be quite
dangerous, as evidenced by the crash of a UH-1Y that
killed six U.S. Marines and seven Nepalese during
earthquake relief operations in Nepal May 12.
For a better example of what a large-scale Navy and
Marine Corps team relief effort looks like, one need look
no further than Operation Damayan after Typhon
Haiyan devastated the Philippines in 2013, when the
services scrambled an entire carrier strike group as well
as a Marine Expeditionary Unit, thousands of troops
and dozens of aircraft to assist in the massive relief operation in November and December of that year.
“I would say we learned very much from Operation
Damayan,” Finman said. “I went down to the Philippines
with my boss about four days after the typhoon, and we
were flown straight into the disaster zone. I was able to put
eyes on the destruction. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Typhoon Haiyan ended up being one of the strongest
tropical cyclones ever recorded, leveling large portions
of Southeast Asia, but hitting the Philippines the hard-est, and it set records as the deadliest typhoon in the
First on the Scene
In times of disaster, the Navy-Marine Corps team
has evolved to meet new expectations, challenges
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
Relief Efforts Evolve
For the Navy, disaster response is about supplying the needs of a
populace after the disaster strikes: providing food and water, making
medical supplies available and preventing the outbreak of disease.
■ Since the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that killed
nearly a quarter of a million people in Southeast Asia more than a
decade ago, the Navy has worked to refine its response tactics
and improve relationships with Southeast Asian nations.
■ The Navy-Marine Corps team is uniquely qualified to respond
because the ships are forward-deployed with the necessary
■ Along with lessons learned over the years regarding tactics
and diplomacy, the Navy and Marine Corps have new tools at
their disposal that make the work easier.