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A Battalion in Italy Supports Humanitarian Disaster Relief Around the World

An Army pre-positioned stocks unit has a unique additional mission: supporting the U.S. Agency for International Development with supplies for disaster relief operations.

Alberto Chidini knows all too well the surprise of being jarred awake in the middle of the night by a ringing telephone. As the manager of humanitarian assistance logistics operations for the 3d Battalion, 405th Army Field Support Brigade, his schedule can change the moment a natural disaster hits anywhere in the world.

The 3d Battalion is a small Army pre-positioned stocks (APS) unit headquartered at Leghorn Army Depot, Italy, that does more than maintain supplies for the APS mission and execute reset and left-behind-equipment operations. It has a worldwide reach through a unique interagency agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“We store and maintain humanitarian supplies for them [USAID], and when an international emergency arises, they contact us directly,” explained Lieutenant Colonel Richard Pierce, the battalion’s commander. “We pack the materials according to the list that they provide and make sure that the supplies get where they are needed as quickly as possible.”

An Advantageous Location

Robert Demeranville, a senior logistician with USAID, noted that USAID operations actually begin long before the call to the battalion. “If something happens, a disaster is declared,” he explained. “We send a team in, and once the team is on the ground, they survey the situation and then send a call for commodities based on what is needed in the disaster area. When we get that call from the team on the ground, we call the battalion and get the supplies moving.”

The 3d Battalion is singularly qualified to support disaster logistics operations. “Our location in Italy gives us a unique logistics capability,” Pierce said. “Because we have access to both water and air transport capabilities within 30 minutes of the depot, we can execute loading and transportation missions quickly and efficiently, ensuring that the aid reaches the disaster area as quickly as possible.”

The ability to move materials using a variety of transportation options is a key component to the success of the relationship. “We frequently need quick access to air transportation,” Demeranville said. “The multiple logistics capabilities of the battalion make it easy for us to move commodities around out of the base and to the designated airport of departure. If we can’t get an airplane to Pisa quickly enough, USAID will contract to have the supplies picked up at our Pisa warehouse and trucked by the battalion to other commercial airport locations in Europe. That sort of flexibility is a great asset for missions such as these.”

Support for Over 40 Years

The agreement between USAID and the battalion began in 1973 during a time when the agency stored all of its materials on military installations. “In the past, we largely utilized military installations for our warehousing operations,” Demeranville said. “However, that is no longer the case. All of our warehousing operations have been moved to commercial locations, with the exception of the materials at the battalion in Italy. They are the only military unit that handles this sort of work for us now.”

Over the decades, the battalion has supported countless missions across the globe. “In the last 10 years alone, we’ve shipped humanitarian assistance supplies to more than 45 countries at USAID’s request,” Chidini said.

Responding Fast

The battalion stores and maintains a wide variety of humanitarian assistance supplies for USAID, including water purification systems, blankets, tents, personal hygiene kits, medical kits, and plastic sheeting. This mission is not without its challenges.

“The humanitarian aid mission is always an emergency,” explained Maurizio Frascarelli, a general supply specialist who frequently assists with the urgent relief USAID missions. “The most challenging part is to understand the request, match the request to our inventory, and find people to do the job, even if it’s in the middle of the night. It is imperative that we load the trucks to send the materials in the shortest timeframe possible.”

Demeranville commented that the Italian customs laws are extremely strict, but the battalion easily overcomes the challenges presented by the nation’s regulations. “Despite the detailed procedures for Italian customs, they do a great job,” he said. “They have a very strong relationship with local customs officials. That’s what makes this agreement so successful—that, and the care and dedication to operations from the crew. You can tell that they take the job very seriously. The battalion knows everything that is required to make operations work at the pace that we need to execute. We reposition lots of cargo in and out of Leghorn Army Depot, and the team there is timely and talented.”

A Rewarding Mission

Of all the missions that the battalion executes, the USAID mission is near and dear to the hearts of the employees. “We consider ourselves a partner to USAID in their humanitarian relief efforts,” Pierce said. “We take great pride in being able to deliver the materials they need in a speedy and efficient manner, doing our part to alleviate the suffering of people as quickly as possible.”

Frascarelli agrees that helping people in need galvanizes the effort. “Often before the call comes in from USAID, we have seen the dramatic images of some catastrophic event on the television, and this makes us extremely motivated.”

One of the battalion’s most recent efforts on behalf of USAID supported relief operations in Haiti, where a devastating 7.0 earthquake decimated much of the country in January 2010. Over 3 months, the battalion sent thousands of pounds of humanitarian supplies to Haiti in 5 different shipments, including four 10,000-liter water bladders, 8 water purification units, more than 58,000 10-liter water containers, more than 30,000 personal hygiene kits, and more than 6,500 rolls of plastic sheeting.

The battalion’s ability to execute missions rapidly makes its relationship with USAID ideal. USAID frequently needs materials moved on very short notice, and the battalion is well-equipped to quickly answer those requests. “USAID does a great job of keeping our warehouses stocked with emergency relief supplies,” Chidini explained. “They always make sure that we have everything we need to support them in their requests.”

Lieutenant Colonel Pierce also credits his staff for the success the battalion enjoys with the USAID missions. “We have a tremendously talented workforce,” he said. “Our host nation employees are incredibly efficient and extremely experienced in these operations, and their ability to perform with such short notice is an invaluable asset to our organization. Their dedication to our mission is a primary reason for our success.”

The agreement between the battalion and USAID is viewed by both parties as a win-win situation. “We take a great deal of pride in our work for USAID,” Pierce explained. “This is a mission that helps alleviate the suffering of people throughout the world, and we are humbled that we get to have the opportunity to assist in those efforts.”

USAID plans to continue the relationship with the battalion for the foreseeable future. “The battalion is a great asset for us, and they do an excellent job of keeping cargo clean and ready to deploy,” Demeranville said. “We have a fantastic relationship with the battalion, and we couldn’t be happier with the work they do for us.”

Captain Michael Kistler, USAR, is program manager for left-behind equipment South of the Alps at Livorno, Italy. He holds two B.A. degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and an M.A. degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is pursuing a doctorate in administration and leadership studies from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of the Army Captains Career Course, Medical Services Corps.

Fred Wittmer is the director of supply for the 3d Battalion, 405th Army Field Support Brigade, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He is a graduate of Louisiana State University and served 21 years in the Army as a quartermaster officer. He has completed the Organizational Leadership for Executives course.

Jennifer King is the public affairs officer for the 405th Army Field Support Brigade in Kaiserslautern, Germany. She holds a B.A. degree in journalism/public relations from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. In her current assignment, she manages Army Materiel Command public affairs activities within the European theater of operations.

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