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About 60 soldiers from the Chinese army are in Hawaii this month to train with the U.S. Army and participate in the first field exercise the two countries have conducted together.
The disaster management exchange is scheduled for today through Thursday at Marine Corps Training Area-Bellows in Hawaii. Senior members of the Chinese delegation will then travel to Washington, D.C., and the Northeast to visit areas affected by last year’s Hurricane Sandy.
The Hawaii-based portion of the exercise is a continuation of an annual — and growing — exchange between the Army and the People’s Liberation Army, said Col. John Lee, strategy and plans officer for security cooperation and policy at U.S. Army Pacific.
As the U.S. military turns its focus toward the Pacific, USARPAC has been working to grow its engagements and exercises with all of its partner nations in the region. And China is a critical part of it.
Last fall, a team of about 20 soldiers traveled to China for a similar exchange focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. The event took place in Beijing, Kunming and Chengdu, and the exercise scenario revolved around a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in a third country.
While the Army has conducted exchanges with the Chinese army since 1998, last year marked the first time the two armies added a tabletop exercise to their annual meetings.
This month’s exchange in Hawaii will still feature a tabletop exercise and an expert academic discussion, but officials are adding a field portion for the first time, Lee said.
This year’s scenario will focus on responding to a typhoon, he said.
“This will be the first time we’ll do a side-by-side in a field environment, with troops actually doing a hands-on practical event,” Lee said. “It stems from last year’s engagement in China. It was something the Chinese … thought was a good progression for our exchange, and we concurred with them. We’re always seeking to work more closely with them, to show them we can work together.”
During the exercise, the soldiers will work on tactics, techniques and procedures for conducting search and rescue in a structure that has collapsed, he said.
About 50 American troops — from Army Pacific, the Hawaii National Guard and the Marine Corps — are scheduled to participate in the exchange, said Lt. Col. Carrie Barhorst, a planner for the event. Also scheduled to participate are experts from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, said Col. Bill Florig, chief of civil-military operations for Army Pacific.
After the exchange in Hawaii, a delegation of senior Chinese officers will travel to the D.C. and New York areas, Lee said.
This is a regular part of the exchange, as well, he said. In previous years, the Chinese visited Louisiana to talk with first responders to Hurricane Katrina, he said. Last year, the Chinese took the Americans to visit Chengdu, which was hit by a deadly earthquake in 2008.
These exchanges are a vital part of Army Pacific’s relationship with the Chinese, said Lt. Col. Adriel Lam, the China desk officer in the Army Pacific security cooperation and policy directorate.
“We all look forward to the exchange, and we see this as a stable part of our relationship,” he said.
The growth of this exchange is important to Army Pacific, which seeks a multinational approach to all of its missions, Florig said.
“What’s important about doing this with the Chinese is it … is a confident first step to moving forward to working with them in the future in situations like this,” he said.
“Most of China’s [humanitarian assistance and disaster relief] is focused on internal [response],” she said. “By coming here, they’re learning about external HADR, and they’re starting to get more involved in the region and other training events that occur across the region.”