Member of the U.S. Air Force Joint Task Force – Leeward Islands, unloads relief supplies at Charles-Douglas Airport.

The unmitigated destruction brought on by Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm which hit the island of Dominica on Monday September 18th, has effectively thrust the country unto the global stage albeit for unfortunate reasons. As various international actors have taken up the mantle of providing assistance to the country, it becomes clear that the road to recovery will be a long and arduous one.

Although the Government has embarked upon several initiatives to foster rapid recovery, the enormity of the task at hand renders the objective of rebuilding the nation unattainable without the support of neighbouring countries and organizational bodies.  DNO was granted an interview with commanding officer US Marine Col. Samarov of  Joint Task Force – Leeward Islands, a member of  the US Department of Defense, who is on island in a supporting role to the USAID and provided some insight about the mission on the ground at this critical time.

The full interview is below:

Firstly, thank you for speaking with DNO and giving the public the opportunity to better understand what is happening in the country post Hurricane Maria. Could you begin by defining what exactly your role is in supporting USAID efforts in Dominica at this time?

My unit, Joint Task Force – Leeward Islands, comprises Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen brought together for their skills and expertise. We are here to support USAID by providing unique military capabilities that they request.

Very briefly, USAID coordinates with the host nation government – Dominica – as well as international, national, and non-governmental relief agencies with relevant expertise to assess critical needs in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.  USAID can then facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. In cases where the host nation and the national and international humanitarian community cannot meet the need, USAID requests the assistance of the U.S. Department of Defense.  The Joint Task Force has unique capabilities useful in this situation, including aviation, logistical support, communications, and so forth.  Also, we are self-sufficient, so when we come in to help, we don’t draw any resources that should go to help the Dominican people.

Is USAID involved in assessing and/or providing security needs to Dominica? If so, in your opinion what is the current state of security and safety on the island?

We have a great partner in USAID.  In humanitarian disasters such as the one that Hurricane Maria caused, USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) sends out a Disaster Assistance Response Team or DART.  The DART leader and his staff have the expertise and experience to broadly assess a humanitarian situation — to include security.  The DART Leader, Mr. Tim Callaghan, and I have been in constant contact about his assessment.  From our conversations and from my personal observations, the security situation on Dominica is stable.  This is a testament to Dominican security professionals and their Regional Security System partners.

What are the resources/tools (including manpower) that USAID has at its disposal to assist the people of Dominica in this crisis?

USAID has a broad range of capabilities including their experts in each humanitarian discipline.  They also can access humanitarian supplies prepositioned across Central America and the Caribbean and back in the United States.  USAID has long-standing contacts with international, national, and non-governmental humanitarian organizations and can fund the very important work that they do.  Finally, USAIDhas the ability to call upon our Joint Task Force for support.

We have all watched in the last few weeks as various countries in the region have been subject to  some form of natural disaster: Hurricanes Irma and Maria  doing severe damage in Dominica, Barbuda, Anguilla, USVI, BVI and Puerto Rico  as well as a massive earthquake in Central Mexico. Given your experience, would you say that this an unprecedented time in our regional history? Speaking specifically to your role as part of the disaster relief what, if any, impact does this have on your ability to dispatch assistance to each territory?

It has been a terrible season for many people throughout the region.   People have lost their homes, their businesses, their possessions, and, in some cases, their lives.  What has been impressive during these many weeks is the resiliency of the people — here in Dominica, on St. Martin, and on Puerto Rico — and the generosity of the humanitarian community.  The US Government, the UN, other governments, international organizations, NGOs, everyone.

As a United States Marine and the Commander of Joint Task Force – Leeward Islands, I’m not really part of a humanitarian organization.  We’re here to support the humanitarians with our unique military capabilities.  As an outsider, it’s been a rewarding and humbling experience to see our humanitarian partners work to relieve human suffering and speed recovery.

Are there any specific areas or districts where your task force’s efforts have been focused? How are these relief efforts being made accessible to the people of Dominica?

I can tell you that much of our support to USAID and the people of Dominica has focused on transporting aid supplies from various locations to Douglas-Charles Airport, offloading humanitarian aid at Douglas-Charles Airport, and transporting relief aid and experts from the Airport and Roseau Seaport to locations on Dominica that USAID has requested.

There have been conflicting reports of the availability of supplies on the island. The daily updates given by the Government assert that organized, expansive efforts are being made to reach all residents yet private citizens are using social media/email to tell a different story. In your opinion, how successful has outreach been thus far and what are the hindrances which may still prevent equal and effective distribution of supplies?

USAID are the real experts in assessing disaster relief needs…much of Dominica’s transportation infrastructure is damaged. Once the island’s road network is clear it should be much easier to deliver humanitarian aid and disaster supplies from the ports and airport to locations throughout the island.

How long does your organization anticipate being on the island?

We’re here to provide critical disaster relief capabilities in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria. We’ll be here as long as USAID feels that our help is needed. Once USAID determines that the unique military capabilities of the Joint Task Force are no longer needed, we will leave the longer term efforts in hands of disaster relief and recovery experts.

Have you had any personal experiences in Dominica which have impacted you in any way?

I had the opportunity to distribute aid in several isolated villages.  Communications with those areas broke down as Hurricane Maria hit.  As a result, many local people did not know we were coming.  The warmth with which we were received, the immediate help local leaders provided in unloading and distributing supplies, and the strength and perseverance that the Dominican people showed really says something about this country.

Is there anything else you would like the public to know?

All of us with Joint Task Force – Leeward Islands are privileged to be in this position, to be able to lend a hand to our neighbors when we’re asked to do so. I hope we’ve been able to help – I think we have – and I hope that out of this terrible situation comes a stronger friendship between us and all the nations of the region that have come together to render aid to those who need it.

Thank you for speaking with DNO!

Thank You!