Humanitarian Aid Mission in Indonesia
For the first time, the Bundeswehr Central Medical Service carried out a joint humanitarian aid mission for one of the worst disasters of mankind together with the German Navy under the uniform command and control of a medical officer. More than 160,000 people died in Indonesia alone due to the tsunami wave. The Bundeswehr brought fast assistance to Banda Aceh with the CSS BERLIN and its Naval Rescue Coordination Center and the mobile surgical hospital on site. The civilian population as well as the personnel of humanitarian aid organizations were treated at the mobile surgical hospital. The synergetic cooperation with the Navy and the Naval Rescue Coordination Center was very successful. A support of the Medical Task Force and other organizations would have been impossible without the helicopters of the CSS BERLIN. The transport of stretcher patients alone could not have been accomplished without the Sea Kings.
One problem was the loading of material, which had to be shipped to or from the BERLIN. Landing craft of other nations (Australia, Spain, Indonesia) had to be employed for distributing the relief supplies that had been brought from Cochin/India for the GTZ (Agency for Technical Cooperation) and the German Red Cross aboard the CSS BERLIN. The transport of patients in a boat was not possible as the patients had to be able to use the Jacob's ladder.
However, the mobility could be ensured despite the large distance to the home country and the limited deployment and transport capacity. Short-term deficiencies could be met by cost-efficient charters and support services of friendly nations (Australia, Spain).
The synergetic employment of land- and sea-based forces under uniform command and control ensured the operation's success. The CSS BERLIN - together with the Naval Rescue Coordination Center - proved particularly suitable for humanitarian aid missions. This became apparent in the following significant situations:
- Transfer of patients to the Naval Rescue Coordination Center, because it was the only facility containing antiseptic operating rooms;
- Provision of special capabilities (e.g. sterilization, laundry);
- Support of specialists in the reconstruction of the hospital (e.g. electricians, plumbers);
- Supply of the mobile surgical hospital (e.g. fresh food, PX articles, pharmaceuticals, camp beds, mobile toilets);
- Execution of MedEvac flights with Sea King helicopters;
- Transport of relief supplies for GTZ/German Red Cross;
- Support of the WHO in the distribution of relief supplies (e.g. mosquito nets) and transport of physicians to vaccination campaigns.
- Supply of other nations with fuel and water;
- In some cases, admission and treatment of soldiers of the Medical Task Force, who had been under significant stress in order to increase the sustainability.
The cooperation with the armed forces of other nations (Australia, Spain, France, USA, Indonesia) was very effective and unproblematic. The cooperation with international organizations (UN, OCHA, WHO, UNICEF) was uncomplicated and effective. These organizations often seemed surprised and positively impressed by the performance capability of the Bundeswehr contribution. The cooperation with the GTZ (Agency for Technical Cooperation) and the German Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau was unproblematic, but unfortunately no concrete activities could be observed during the stay of the contingent. The cooperation with the THW (Federal Technical Emergency Relief Serivce) was excellent and the support provided by this organization was quite helpful for the German contingent.
The legal conditions of the mission must be consiedered a problem. The soldiers practically had a tourist status. Consequently, they had no immunity and were subject to Indonesian law and the jurisdiction on site.
The interest of the media in such an unusual relief operation is particularly high. This interest had to be considered, because the work of the soldiers was to be portrayed as positively as possible at home. But German soldiers are also in the center of interest of foreign media, which came to see the performance capability on site. Consequently, all soldiers have to be instructed in how to deal with the media.