The U.S. Navy gained a lot of valuable experience doing disaster relief work recently in Aceh, Indonesia. For the navy and marine officers involved, it was a unique experience. Often it was a learning experience. For example, initially, junior level (O-4, O-5) officers were sent to planning meetings with the UN and NGOs. These officers were meant as liaison, not decision makers. But it was the custom for relief organizations to send more senior decision makers to such meetings. Soon, more senior military officers were attending these meetings, so they could make decisions on the spot.
At first, the American officers believed it would be best to work through the Indonesian military. They quickly discovered what Indonesians have long known, that the Indonesian military is one of the corrupt organizations in the country. The American officers quickly looked around and found that the UN, for all its faults, was pretty clean and efficient when they were doing disaster relief. The troops also had some problems trying to sort out all the NGOs they encountered. Some of the NGOs appeared to have a foreign policy (that usually opposed the U.S.), but in most cases NGOs would leave their politics aside to get the job done. The military also found out that some of the NGOs, particularly the World Health Organization (WHO), had a pretty good intelligence network. Makes sense, as WHO is constantly trying to spot new disease outbreaks, and do something about it, before things get out of control. The American officers also had to learn to loosen up a bit when it came to their own intelligence resources. In a disaster zone, theres no such thing as military secrets. After a few weeks, American intelligence gathering was being put to good use to measure the extent of the disaster, and where help was most needed.
The navy and marines also found the experience an excellent way to learn more about Indonesia, its people culture and geography. The Indonesians appreciated the help, and made it clear that the good feelings for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps would last a long time.