What an impressive couple of days...
It started early last week when we first saw the news about the fires in Russia...unseasonably hot and dry weather set the region up to be vulnerable to fires. In late July and early August, they broke out seemingly everywhere-forest fires and peat fires. Russian President Mevedev declared an emergency. Earlier this week, there were over 600 fires throughout Russia.
Our team at U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, began initial brainstorming last week. We put together some ideas on how we might help. By last weekend, the Russian government passed a list of equipment they needed to our embassy in Moscow.
Our smart planners worked with all of our components in Europe - Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Army - to rapidly determine what we could supply...this was truly a full team effort to help the Russian people in the midst of this very difficult time.
We identified supplies like Pioneer Equipment (shovels, picks, saws), large diameter hoses, mobile pumping stations, personal protective equipment, and medical kits...then packaged them for delivery. We reached out to our bases as far west as Rota, Spain and as far south as Sigonella, Italy. Additional materials were identified from our stocks in Norway and at our airbase at Ramstein.
C-130J aircrews were put on alert and our team filed clearances to fly into Russia. We prioritized the assets based on speed-what could we get there quick? And now...we have them en route to Russia!
Admiral Stavridis always asks us to seek a "whole of government" approach to security and stability in our region...this is it. Before we could deliver anything, we needed a formal request from our Ambassador in Moscow, the concurrence of the State Department, and the approval by the Secretary of Defense. We are following the lead federal agency- the US Agency for International Development (USAID). We continue to partner with the embassy country team in Moscow.
Admiral Stavridis also asks us to think "partnership" in the European region...again, this is it. We are using U.S. military equipment, aircraft, and people to help. Our contributions are part of a much larger international effort to respond to this disaster. Russia has received assistance in extinguishing their fires from throughout the region...Serbia, Italy, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Uzbekistan, France, Germany, and Latvia are among the contributors to the response.
This effort sure makes all of us proud. Planners worked around the clock; innovative thinkers came up with quick solutions to the inevitable speed bumps in the process. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines pulled together as a team to identify equipment and load it on pallets.
We asked our Air Component, United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE), to lead...and they did a great job. Our C-130 aircrews demonstrated their flexibility and "get it done" attitude. The entire endeavor reminds me of the last humanitarian assistance operation I participated in...Hurricane Katrina Recovery. There too, our service members demonstrated quiet confidence, dedicated professionalism, and a laser focus on mission accomplishment.
The combined effort clearly demonstrated the U.S. is both ready and capable of meeting humanitarian needs no matter where they occur or who they involve. We want Russia and all our European partners to know that the U.S. is ready to be a "best neighbor"...one they can count on to stand by their side when the times are tough.
We wish the Russian people all the best as they continue their fight to contain the wildfires that are burning across their country, and we hope for a quick end to the suffering and difficulties that have resulted from this natural disaster.
I'm glad we had the chance to be a part of the effort to help.