Friday, November 22, 2013

"The Worlds Symbol of Hope in Disaster"

ORNDOC BAY, Philippines (Nov. 16, 2013) Sailors from the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) and Philippine Army soldiers unload international aid from an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from the Island Knights of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25 as an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the Warlords of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 51 prepares to land. HSC-25, HSM-51 and Mustin are with the George Washington Carrier Strike Group, which is supporting the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade in assisting the Philippine government in ongoing relief efforts in response to the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Timothy Tran/Released))
Last week I was sitting on the couch with my 3rd grader. It was almost 9pm, well past her bedtime. She was finishing her homework late due to being out that evening shopping with mom, and I was enjoying a book as I tend to do in the evenings. We have a family rule that during homework time, the television is allowed to be on only as long as it is on the a Music Choice station - in most cases the Alternative music station.

My daughter finished her homework about 8:59, and I changed the channel over to CNN to see how Anderson Cooper was going to lead into his show. While I do not watch cable news very often, I had noted from Twitter that Anderson Cooper was in the Philippines, and I was very curious how CNN was reporting the response to the Typhoon.

As I was telling my daughter that her evening still isn't done, Thursday night being bath night, there was a silent pause in our conversation so we could have a staring contest between dad and daughter over this new 'bath time' information that was not being well received. In that silent moment, Anderson Cooper made a comment like "US Navy helicopters have become a global symbol of hope during crisis."

I got distracted when hearing that phrase, and repeated it out loud to myself. My daughter then asked me a question, "What does crisis mean?" My immediate thought was how fortunate I am that my eight year old child has never had to learn the meaning of that word crisis from experience. As I explained the definition, describing the term within the context of disaster, CNN flashes a picture of an MH-60 helicopter delivering humanitarian assistance to the people of the Philippines. My daughter, a right-brained thinker who has grown up heavily influenced by her much older left brained-sister, noted it is the same helicopter that I have a picture of on my office wall - a picture of the Bay Raiders of HSC-28 Det 2 from the Bataan's incredibly long 2011 deployment.

The voice of power interrupts our little conversation as mom sends my daughter up to the shower.

Fast forward to Wednesday night, where again the family is gathered to read and do homework listening to excellent music, as per our usual routine. That evening my youngest daughter asked me to check her paragraph. The classwork for the evening is for the students to write a paragraph based on an article written in this weeks Time For Kids magazine and other materials from school related to the Typhoon that hit the Philippines. I checked the TFK website, the article in the print version is not the same article they have online. On Thursday, exchanging emails with my daughters teacher, I was able to get the back story.

Every Monday the students discuss current events from the weekend. This weeks current event topic for class is the Typhoon. Several of the boys in the class had watched the news with their parents over the weekend and the centerpiece of the class discussion was the USS George Washington (CVN 73). The teacher, because she is freaking awesome, quickly pulled up a picture of the ship for the class to help the students fully appreciate how big an aircraft carrier is. My daughter, according to the teacher, contributed to this conversation by repeating her interpretation of what Anderson Cooper said - describing Navy helicopters as "the worlds symbol of hope in disaster."

For the art project this week, the students were asked to draw a picture related to the Typhoon, which are then placed around the classroom for the week. Due to my daughter leaving a form that needed to be filled out in her classroom, I walked into my daughters classroom with her to see the art the students had produced hanging on the walls of the classroom. There were pictures of aircraft carriers and helicopters, Marines and even a few dark pictures of broken homes and sad people, and in the center of the room my daughter showed me her picture - which was very similar to my picture of the Bay Raiders from HSC-28 in my office, except with gold glitter and glue she had written "The worlds symbol of hope in disaster."

Since the release of the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, the United States has not hesitated to commit major naval capabilities to humanitarian response and disaster recovery. While it isn't necessarily a new thing to commit aircraft carriers for HADR, the increased frequency of committing major naval capabilities like entire Carrier Strike Groups for that purpose can be specifically attributed to the elevated emphasis of humanitarian assistance and disaster response outlined in CS21. I do believe Anderson Cooper is on to something, and the US Navy helicopter has in fact become a symbol of hope in crisis around the world.

That symbolism is important, and represents a much stronger strategic communication than I have previously appreciated. Six years after the release of CS21 I note that it is primarily because of an active HADR policy by PACOM  - using aircraft carriers to respond to crisis in places like the Philippines and Japan, and building upon the 2005 Tsunami response by the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72); the forward deployed aircraft carrier in the Pacific is no longer simply a symbol of American military power communicating political influence to the governments of the region, but thanks to the consistent great work of the helicopter squadrons supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster response, the aircraft carrier has also become a symbol of American power representing hope during crisis to the people of the region during their times of legitimate need.

That second part has significantly greater positive ramifications in support of America's "Pivot to Asia" policy than the first part, because regional support of the United States at the population level defuses criticism of American forward based presence while simultaneously reinforcing the value of the United States as the regions primary security provider, and by using "hard power" assets in support of HADR a positive American "soft power" message is being communicated to a broader audience than just the political level of the regional governments.

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