Cyclone Idai struck central Mozambique in March, killing more than 600 people and leading to thousands of cases of cholera and malaria, according to Associated Press reports.
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Brian Patterson, a 1998 graduate of Cedar Cliff High School, stepped into the aftermath, serving as lead operations officer in charge of the U.S. military activities in Mozambique during relief efforts.
“For me, and the other U.S. service members, this was a very rewarding experience,” Patterson said in an email to The Sentinel.
During the three-week mission, Patterson and his colleagues with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa delivered more than 2 million pounds of food, services and medical equipment on 125 military flights.
“The combined effort from the U.S. Department of Defense, USAID and U.S. Embassy teams allowed us to directly make a positive impact on over 1 million displaced Mozambicans, something we can all be very proud we were able to accomplish,” Patterson said.
Patterson served seven years on active duty, and is approaching nine years of reserve duty.
In his civilian career, Patterson is the North American director of operations for DSM, a life and material science company headquartered in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Q. How did Cyclone Idai affect Mozambique?
A. Cyclone Idai was devastating to the people in central Mozambique. It was estimated 1.8 million people were displaced from their homes with an estimated 1,000 deaths between Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Whole villages were destroyed, along with significant impact to infrastructure of the country to include bridges and roads. Several major roads and bridges that connected towns and villages were closed for over a week, crippling the ability to transport goods to people in need. The heavy rainfall also occurred at the peak time for the growth of their crops that will result in a significant impact to their food supply for the remainder of the year. The medium- to long-term effects the people of Mozambique will experience for the remainder of 2019 are still being evaluated.
Q. What is the role of the Department of Defense in the relief efforts, including your role specifically?
A. The role of the Department of Defense in Mozambique was to support the government of Mozambique and the United States Department of State, specifically the United States Agency for International Development and their Disaster Assistance Response Team. The USAID and DART teams worked closely with the government of Mozambique and other nongovernment organizations such as the World Food Program and the United Nations to see where the unique capabilities of the United States Department of Defense could best support aid efforts.
After this initial assessment between all parties was completed, it was identified that the strategic airlift capability of the U.S. military was the best option to provide relief and aid support to those impacted by Tropical Cyclone Idai. Using a “hub and spoke” concept, our military service members used large, strategic aircraft such as C-17s to deliver goods from Europe, the Middle East, and other parts of Africa to the Mozambique capital of Maputo.
From Maputo, smaller strategic aircraft such as C-130s were used to deliver supplies ranging from food to vehicles to medical supplies and much needed rebuilding equipment to smaller inland airports. I served as the lead operations officer in charge of the U.S. military activities in Mozambique.
I spent three weeks in Mozambique, first as the member of a small four-person team that completed an initial assessment of the impacted areas and worked closely with the government of Mozambique and USAID members to see how U.S. military assets could best be deployed to support aid efforts.
At the peak of operations, we had approximately 100 U.S. service members on the ground and operating aircraft that delivered 800 tons of goods and supplies on 125 military flights.
Q. What is the greatest challenge in getting materials and personnel to where they are needed?
A. We encountered several challenges, but the biggest challenge was prioritizing what goods to send and how we could efficiently and safely deliver them to areas in need. Our aircraft have great capabilities, but there are limits to how much the planes can carry and the ability for airfields to offload goods safely and efficiently. With many airports closed, the airports we used were congested and we had to ensure our crews could safely operate. This type of congested operations is to be expected in a catastrophe such as this. I am proud that our team worked as quickly as they could, in close collaboration with the government of Mozambique and members from USAID, to safely deliver as much relief aid and support that we did.
Q. Why is it important, or necessary, for the military to be involved in relief efforts like this?
A. The U.S. Department of Defense has many unique capabilities, but not all of these capabilities are a good fit for every situation. For the Tropical Cyclone Idai humanitarian assistance effort specifically, the need to deliver large amounts of relief aid to impacted areas was needed, and the U.S. Department of Defense has the unique capability for large, strategic aircraft to transport goods over long ranges. Another unique capability the U.S. military was able to meet in this situation was our close proximity to the impacted area. I am currently serving on a nine-month deployment as a Navy Reserve officer with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa based on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, the only permanent U.S. military installation on the continent of Africa. I, and others from our command, were able to quickly deploy to the impacted area and offer support within days.
Q. What is the most rewarding aspect of doing this work?
A. For me, what was most rewarding was being able to work with almost 100 U.S. service members who were on the ground in Mozambique, and the many commands that supported us from Africa, Europe, and the United States. Their support are what enabled the team to complete the mission in Mozambique. The proudest moment for me was one of the days we were at the Beira, Mozambique International Airport, one of the hardest hit areas by Cyclone Idai. That day on the ground at the airport, we had one U.S. Air Force C-17, multiple C-130s, and approximately 50 U.S. service members from all branches of the military off-loading and moving material. I was so proud to see U.S. service members, planes and equipment in this part of the world making such a big impact for thousands of people. It showed what is possible when we combine our best capabilities and people to quickly and successfully accomplish a mission like this.