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Army, China team for disaster relief exercise

Dec. 12, 2012 - 07:16AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 12, 2012 - 07:16AM  |  
Soldiers from the U.S. and China meet for their first Joint Humanitiarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Tabletop Exercise together in late November in Chendu, China.
Soldiers from the U.S. and China meet for their first Joint Humanitiarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Tabletop Exercise together in late November in Chendu, China. (Army)
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Fresh off of its first disaster management exercise with the Chinese army, U.S. Army Pacific is seeking to expand its engagements and exercises with the Asian giant.

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Fresh off of its first disaster management exercise with the Chinese army, U.S. Army Pacific is seeking to expand its engagements and exercises with the Asian giant.

A team of about 20 soldiers traveled to China from Nov. 26 to Dec. 2 for a disaster management exchange. The event, which focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, took place in Beijing, Kunming and Chengdu.

Although the Army has conducted exchanges with the Chinese army since 1998 to varying degrees, this year marked the first time the two armies added a tabletop exercise to their annual meetings.

"Traditionally, it's been a series of senior leadership engagements, mostly meetings or informational exchanges," said Maj. Gen. Stephen Lyons, commanding general of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command and leader of the group that traveled to China. "This year, we brought the two staffs together to work through scenarios for a deeper, more meaningful exchange, and we're committed to expanding that kind of relationship, even at the most junior officer level."

The exercise could lead to soldier exchanges and field exercises, Lyons said.

As the U.S. military transitions from Iraq and Afghanistan and turns its focus toward the Pacific, U.S. Army Pacific has been working to grow its engagements and exercises with all of its partner nations in the region. And China, the world's most populous country and one of the world's largest economies, is a critical part of the Asia-Pacific region.

"We have a lot more in common than we do apart," Lyons said. "We're both professional armies, and we also have a common interest in maintaining stability in the region and helping the people in the region."

Both armies also want to build a strong relationship with one another, he said.

"It's good for our armies to understand each other professionally and for the region to see us working together," Lyons said. "We believe our interests in the region are inextricably linked. We absolutely seek a very positive, very cooperative and very comprehensive relationship."

During its week in China, the U.S. contingent met with officials from the People's Liberation Army in Beijing, spent time with search-and-rescue units assigned to the earthquake management bureau in Kunming and conducted the two-day tabletop exercise in Chengdu.

The exercise scenario revolved around a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in a third country, Lyons said.

"The scenario was such that the country called and requested assistance, and China and the U.S. were two of 11 countries sought for assistance," he said.

Among the issues discussed during the exercise were how each country would employ forces and conduct search and rescue and how each would approach the multinational environment, Lyons said.

"We found we have a lot in common, of course, obviously with the desire to help people, but also our approach to search and rescue, to dealing with hazardous material and so on," he said.

The U.S. team was "very impressed" with the PLA's disaster relief capabilities, Lyons said.

"Because of the high number of disasters that occur in the region, they're very experienced," he said. "We found them very, very capable."

Next year, the U.S. will host a Chinese delegation as the two countries continue this exchange, Lyons said, adding that the two armies are already discussing how to grow these events.

"We spent the latter part of the trip discussing the future of the next series of exercises," he said. "We talked about adding soldier exchanges, command post exercises and field exercises. Both the PLA and U.S. Army are very optimistic about the opportunity to expand these types of exchanges."

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