West Virginian-Peru logistics visit highlights newly-formed units, expanded relations in subject matter expert exchange

By Army Sgt. Zoe Morris, West Virginia National Guard | West Virginia National Guard | Oct. 30, 2019

LIMA, Peru —

With a relationship spanning more than 20 years, the West Virginia Army National Guard (WVARNG) and Peruvian Army (PERAR) are at a unique time in both agencies where planning and preparation around natural disaster and emergency response are coming together and showing fruition.

Five members of the WVARNG participated in a subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) on logistics and domestic emergency and natural disaster operations with members of the PERAR in Lima, Peru, Oct. 14 - 18, 2019.

Leaders from both WVARNG and PERAR shared their organization’s current standing, future goals, and how the partnership can help both accomplish the same mission - saving lives and livelihoods of their communities through prevention of, as well as reaction to, catastrophic natural disasters.

Both militaries have long been looking at disaster response and have recently undergone restructuring to ease the process.

In 2018, a long-term goal came to fruition when West Virginia’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Watch Center, Emergency Operations Center, and the WVNG’s Joint Operations Center were literally brought under one roof, at the WVNG’s Joint Force Headquarters in Charleston, W.Va. The move was made, largely, to reduce time and resources needed to respond to emergencies as well as strengthen relationships within state agencies.

In that same timeframe, the PERAR stood up the Multipurpose Brigade, the first of its kind within the country, with a mission to respond to the immediate effects of a natural disasters and plan for prevention measures and rehabilitation after a disaster by working in a joint environment. The PERAR has also recently established the Amazon Protection Brigade with a unique mission to combat the environmental, socioeconomic and humanitarian impacts of illegal mining and logging, deforestation, pollution, and climate change that has led to forced migration and human trafficking within the country.

The Multipurpose Brigade grew from a 2016 Peru – U.S. Army Staff Talks Executive Committee Meeting lead by U.S. Army South, between the Army South Command Team and the Peruvian Army Command Team. Both Armies agreed to a plan of action that would lead to the establishment of a Peruvian Army Multipurpose Brigade capable of operating in multi-national full spectrum operations. The WVNG had been there every step of the formation, as Peru’s SPP partner.

The shared similarities between West Virginia and Peru have led to SMEE’s like this most recent one. With a change in structure and mission focus comes a need to share doctrine and best practices, pulling on shared knowledge and experience.

Of course, behind every grand idea, there are officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) on the ground digging into the nuts and bolts, finding the tools needed to build the plan.

This was the purpose of the October SMEE, attended by U.S. Army Col. David Shafer, WVNG lead strategic plans officer with a background as an engineer and brigade commander, and U.S. Army Capt. Caroline Muriama, a WVNG logistics officer and 35th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosive (CBRNE) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) action officer.

PERAR Maj. Gen. Miguel Angel GARCIA Salas, commanding general, Departamento de Logística del Ejército (DILOGE) (Army Logistics Department) hosted the SMEE, which was also attended by around 60 Peruvian officers. Structure and priorities were briefed by Maj. Gen. Francisco QUEVEDO Mogollon with the Direccion de Apoyo al Desarrollo Nacional del Ejército (DIRADNE) (Director of National Army Development Support Directory), and Col. Cesar Augusto FLORES Samguineti, commander of the Brigada Multiproposito (Miltipurpose Brigade).

 

“For us, as the army, it’s a pleasure to be here and share our experience,” Garcia said. “It’s a pleasure to see young officers who are going to see the future of this world, and are learning for the future.”

While the mornings consisted of briefings by both contingents, there was a large portion of time set aside for back and forth exchanges about military/civilian contracts, engineering, field sanitation, supply chains, transportation, and newly-established chains of command.

Peru’s army is a first responder during disasters, and the WVNG is a support element, but surprisingly the discussions about funding and company-level response were similar, and helped both sides lay the groundwork for future exercises.

The concept of the Multi-purpose Brigade was intriguing and it will be interesting to see how the BDE evolves and responds to natural disasters.  Muriama is excited about the prospect of a squad or company-level exchange of personnel in the future as we share lessons learned. 

“The Multipurpose Brigade demonstrated some intriguing tools for search and rescue,” she said. “Given the opportunity there would be great value to host a contingent and train together in an urban structural collapse scenario, wilderness flood/debris search and rescue response scenario. Learning is a continuous process and the more we can collaborate and learn from each other, the more enhanced our technical project planning’s are.”

Shafer, who has participated in several SMEE’s, said that this one was unique in that the logistics briefing lead to quite a few actionable conversations that he hopes will result in an exchange of doctrine and training experiences.

“Logistics is the foundation that we rely upon,” he said. “The importance of planning, training, keeping supplies in the warehouse and at the unit cannot be overstated in times of emergency.”

Shafer said the WVNG plans around what resources would be needed based on population, business and infrastructure. The logistics team works many long hours at the beginning of the disaster ordering supplies, he said, but the importance of contracts in saving time in an emergency is essential.

Col. Martin Hereida, a logistics officer with DILOGE, said the goal is to cover 124 companies of first responders and search and rescue in the most vulnerable places for natural disaster. The brigade is stationed in Lima but will be able to travel at short notice as needed.

The brigade is able to assist in civil operations - distribute water, supplies, vaccines, and can pre-stage in areas under warning.

“We are always trying to improve our capabilities,” Hereida said.

In the massive 2006 earthquake in Pisco, Peru, Heredia was commander of the transportation company that was first on scene. He said they were able to get through because they were engineers, and were able to make it over the impassible roads. His soldiers brought first aid and helped in the immediate aftermath, and that experience has motivated him to work towards a better first response system, he said.

 “We have done a very big step in creating the Multipurpose Brigade, military wise and civilian response side,” he said. “The needs are large and resources are limited, so everyone’s task is optimization, to satisfy the needs.”

Hereida and Shafer, both commanders who have led their soldiers in times of natural disaster, shared that missions cannot focus on combat only, and reinforced the importance of critical thinking by their officers and NCOs. The agreed that their current mission must focus on ensuring the resources and training are synchronized between all entities during all domestic operations.

“The Peruvians are resourceful and have an all-encompassing mission for their country, as we do,” Shafer said. “These relationships help solidify a deep partnership and exchange of actionable ideas as well as a cultural understanding and communication.”

West Virginia and Peru have been partners through the State Partnership Program since 1996. Through this partnership, the two have participated in more than 130 engagements focusing on regional challenges facing the Andean region, especially in the areas of counter-insurgency, anti-terrorism, emergency preparedness, and disaster response and recovery.