The U.S. has made a name for itself launching humanitarian missions around the world when disaster strikes. The operations save thousands of lives, relieve suffering, and burnish America’s reputation.
Here are six of the largest relief operations the U.S. has launched outside of its borders:
In Operation Tamadachi, Marines rushed into the Sendai Airport and cleared broken vehicles and tons of debris from from runways to reopen the airport. The Navy sent in the USS Ronald Reagan and 21 other ships to help ferry supplies from international donors and relief agencies and to search the ocean for survivors swept into the sea.
Navy aircraft also moved Japanese personnel when necessary.
Unique to Operation Tamadachi was a nuclear component as the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were heavily damaged. The U.S. assisted with coordinating and conducting aerial monitoring while Japanese forces evacuated the surrounding areas and worked to stabilize the facility.
The relief effort helped save thousands of lives, but the country still lost more than 20,000 people to the three earthquakes and follow-on tsunami in 2011.
Massive floods in Pakistan in 2010 drove people from their homes, wiped out fields, and increased the spread of diseases. The U.S. and other nations responded with a massive relief effort that helped ferry needed supplies. The U.S delivered its first 5 million tons of supplies in just over a month of relief and delivered 20 million tons before the end of operations.
Thirty military helicopters were pressed into the effort alongside a fleet of C-130s and C-17s. The C-17 is the U.S. military’s second-largest plane and can carry 90,000 pounds per lift.
The USS Carl Vinson sailed to Haiti in January 2010 after a massive earthquake killed 230,000 people and devastated the local infrastructure. Air Force special operators controlled a huge amount of air traffic while the Navy assisted with logistics and Marines helped shore up buildings and clear debris.
The Navy employed over 30 ships to provide help and the USNS Comfort provided medical care, fresh water, and needed shelter. The Army later deployed paratroopers to help prevent outbreaks of disease and to continue rebuilding key infrastructure and homes.
In 2009, Indonesia was once again rocked by earthquakes. This time, a special operations group was already present in the country when the earthquakes hit and it provided coordination for follow-on forces. Emergency supplies quickly flowed into the country.
The U.S. deployed a Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team for the first time. It’s a rapidly deployable hospital, but the medical operation arrived too late to treat many trauma victims. Still, the hospital treated 1,945 people and the operation delivered 640,000 pounds of supplies during 12 days of operations.
When an earthquake in the Indian Ocean sent a massive tsunami into 14 countries in late 2004, the Republic of Indonesia was the worst hit. Over 280,000 people were killed but the USS Abraham Lincoln ferried food, water, and medical supplies to the worst hit areas.
Over the entire region, 30 Navy ships served emergency needs and the USNS Mercy, a 1,000-bed hospital ship, provided critical medical care to 200,000 survivors.
The largest humanitarian assistance operation in history was actually launched to overcome a man-made shortage, not recover from a natural disaster. The Soviet blockade of West Berlin caused a massive food shortage in the Western-government occupied sectors of the city.
So the U.S. and Britain launched the Berlin Airlift, an 11-month operation that moved over 2 million tons of supplies and $224 million past the blockade. The Soviet Union eventually gave in and lifted the blockade.