Logistical Support Offered by the Military to “Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief”

Posted: March 18, 2024

Logistics is the most crucial ingredient in any disaster relief effort, and it determines the difference between a successful operation and a failed one”.

                                                                                                            Cozzolino 2012, p. 7


In the modern world, disasters have been frequently striking and causing a humanitarian crisis characterized by untold devastating and human suffering. The concerned stakeholders have realized that responses to such natural disasters need to be immediate and appropriate as well as well organized. The states and governments are continue to employ “military assets in humanitarian emergencies such as large-scale disasters” (Hofmann and Hudson 2009, p.29) because of their high planning and logistic capabilities (Cozzolino 2012, p.13).


This essay aims at discussing the most effective logistical support that the Military offers in the case of Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief. The army engages in the humanitarian logistics where they plan, execute and control the efficient and effective as well as the storage of materials and goods to help the suffering people.


Though the Military is engaged in humanitarian activities in various ways, the essay concentrates on the logistics part only. It covers the military logistic activities by considering the systems and processes involved in mobilizing personnel, skills, knowledge and resources to help the vulnerable and disaster affected people. Specifically, it addresses transportation services, expert personnel, and the required resources.

Logistical Support Provided by the Military in “Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief”

Transport Services

Military use their various modes of transport in the Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief to offer the much needed assistance to the affected individuals. First, the military, under the Air force category provides their aircraft, including the cargo airplanes for airlift operations (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2008, p.15). The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute further added that the air transport is the major military asset used in conveying the humanitarian relief and personnel to the disaster sites, especially during the initial response surge phase because it is at this stage that the most urgent aid is needed and access to these areas is limited. Kovács and Spens (2011, p.127) noted that the military logisticians remain crucial in the early phases of disaster relief because they are involved in the restoration of communication systems, offering protection for the incoming aid and helping with urgent air lifts and drops of reliefs in inaccessible locations. Besides, the military use their ships, which have been designed for mass distributions. Such ships offload many tones of the aid relief in the affected regions using the customized landing craft.

Since the engagement in humanitarian activities was traditionally seen as a role of civil agencies, the deployment of the military and the use of their assets is termed and seen as a last resort (Hofmann and Hudson 2009, p.30). The military is called upon whenever the local governments or the states have exhausted their resources. As such, the military assets should complement the states’ and local agencies’ resources and not supplant the existing relief initiatives (Kapucu 2011, p.9). However, in a rapid-onset situation, Hofmann and Hudson (2009, p.30) noted that pragmatism often prevails and the military rapidly responds in accordance with the purpose of humanitarian assistance: to strengthen the effort of the local institutions in relieving suffering, to sustain dignified life, and taking the rehabilitation steps. In the case of the Hurricane Katrina, the American Military played a crucial role, where “the Marines, the Air Force, US Army Corps, Navy, and the National Guard offered helicopter-carriers to establish search as well as rescue operations for the affected” (Hofmann and Hudson 2009, p.30). According to Davis, Cecchine, Schaefer and Zeman (2007, p.29), the initial active military focused on the search and rescue missions primarily using helicopter units. The helicopter carrier, “USS Bataan”, was in the Texas port and started to steam towards the region of Katrina. The Air Force and the National Guard aircraft were deployed a day after the landfall while the active-duty Army and Marine helicopters begun the search and rescue operations the next day. In total, Kapucu (2011, p.21) noted that the military assets used for search, rescue and transportation purposes comprised of 360 helicopters, 20 ships and 93 fixed wing aircraft. Another example is the Haitian earthquake of 2010 that was characterized by immense devastation. In particular, it destroyed almost all the transportation networks in Haiti and the United Nations Stabilization Mission offices. The destruction and blockage of roads by debris made this mode of transport unusable. The condition saw the airport become chaotic due to the destruction of the air traffic control systems and the accumulation of the aid cargo, which lacked local delivery capacity. The military was used to solve this problem using their helicopters and aircraft in final delivery requirements (Kovács and Spens 2011, p.57).

Provision of Expert Personnel

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (2008 p.16) noted that human resources are among the most important and crucial assets that the military offers in the event of occurrence of natural disasters. In particular, the military provides skilled personnel in coordination, needs assessment, and civil-military liaison functions. Before deploying its assets to the large-scale natural disaster regions, the military first dispatches a disaster evaluation team of staff. In most cases, the team comprises of the military personnel, national aid agencies, and defense and health authorities. The military personnel are experts in disaster settings and the operational procedures. The professionals in the needs assessments, civil-military liaison and logistics management have been very useful because they are the ones getting into contact with the affected individuals than the air transport people do (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2008, p.17).

For instance, the US Air Force provided FAA-certified air traffic controllers in Haiti when its airports seemed chaotic after the 2010 earthquake. Besides, the Air Force produced a well-trained Special Ops Airmen hours after the 7.0 devastating Haiti earthquake that got on the ground and set the chief airport running using a “card table and handheld radios” to facilitate the inflows and delivery of aid to the population in need of assistance (US Air Force 2016). Other specialists from the military include Critical Care Medicine specialists who treat the ill or injured individuals, and the mechanical, electrical, architectural and environmental engineers who provide engineering equipment necessary to activate the silent networks and rebuilding of the destroyed infrastructure (Davis, Cecchine, Schaefer and Zeman 2007, p.33; US Air Force 2016). In Australia, the military used their engineering skills to fix a caved in sandbag wall that protected a sewer pumping plant located at the Lakes Entrance after the devastating flood that was witnessed in Paynesville (Australian Army 2012). The Australian soldiers, under the Operation Queensland Flood Assist II, were also involved in the rescue mission after floods hit Bundaberg. In particular, the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment used their expertise in clearing the blocked roads and draining the pools of water from holes in those roads.

Resources Supply

The military also plays a crucial role in the supply of the required resources in its humanitarian aid and disaster relief engagements. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (2008 p.17) noted that the military personnel have been deployed by the various countries on a temporal basis to the UN bodies during disaster response. This is most notable and common with the World Food Program’s logistics department that hires people possessing military knowledge and culture because they have strong logistics as well as transport coordination capacity.

As the second objective of the response phase is the restores sub-phase and involves re-institution of the basic services and goods delivery within the shortest time possible to the beneficiaries (Cozzolino 2012, p.9). The delivery and supply of the relief aid to the affected region are always important in supporting the population with the basic needs. For instance, the Haitian earthquake of January 12th, 2010 that had an extremely severe impact proved the need for the military involvement in the humanitarian aid and disaster relief. The US Navy and other foreign armies were involved in the reopening on the Port-au-Prince seaport to make it functional and enable humanitarian aid to be offloaded. Using the port and other repaired main roads to the city, the inland transport became more effective, enabling deliveries of 123,000 liters of water, 4,100 kg of medical supplies, and 111,082 meals (Kovács and Spens 2011 p.54). Dolmetsch (as cited in Kovács and Spens 2011, p.54) noted that within 11 days, the military had made an impressive progress in the delivery of tents, relief supplies including 4 million emergence food packs, and medical equipment.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (2008 p.16), military frequently send their medical support assets to the disaster stricken areas as part of the relief operations. Such an engagement may be in the form of medical supplies, hospital ships, mobile clinics, or field hospitals staffed by military medical professionals, doctors and nurses. The military medical assets are commonly deployed where there is an overwhelming humanitarian need and the local health infrastructure cannot meet them due to difficulties in accessing them or security concerns. The USA and other international military were involved in the provision of the medical support after the devastating impact of the Indian Ocean tsunami.


The military assets have become an integral part across the world in humanitarian responses in the event of rapid-onset natural disasters. The unique capabilities of their assets and their quick response have seen the military deployed to save lives, property and restore order in disaster stricken regions. The paper sought to assess the most effective logistical support that the Military personnel offer during humanitarian aid and disaster relief. First, the paper established that the military offers means of transport where it becomes difficult for the state or humanitarian agencies. The military has been providing aircraft, helicopters and ships to support search and rescue mission. Second, the logistical support is offered during the provision of the required resources such as the water, food and medical supplies. Third, the military provides the required expertise necessary in the search, rescue, and reconstruction efforts. The notable professional include doctors, nurses, and engineers, needs assessors, coordinators and experts in disaster settings and the operational procedures.