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Airlift squadron established for Ebola response in Senegal

DAKAR, Senegal (AFNS) -- More than 35 Airmen and two C-130J Super Hercules from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, arrived here this week to establish the 787th Air Expeditionary Squadron and to fly humanitarian cargo into Liberia as part of Operation United Assistance, the mission to fight Ebola in West Africa.

The Dyess AFB Airmen, all from the 317th Airlift Group and 7th Bomb Wing, joined forces with more than 70 Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard's 123rd Contingency Response Group, who have been operating a cargo hub at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar since Oct. 5.

The 787th AES flew its first sortie into Liberia Nov. 4, airlifting more than 8 tons of medical equipment, stretchers, blood, bleach and other supplies, according to Lt. Col. Michael Brock, a C-130 pilot and the squadron's commander.

"Our airlift mission here is extremely important, particularly as the number of deployed U.S. forces continues to increase," Brock said. "We will be flying daily sorties into the affected areas to deliver supplies and equipment that are mission essential, both to the sustainment of troops and to ongoing efforts to contain and eliminate the Ebola outbreak.

"The 787th (AES) is executing a noble mission," he continued. "I'm very proud of the team and their professionalism as we've stood up our squadron here. We're excited to work with the 123rd CRG and build on the foundation they've established in Dakar."

Two more C-130s and about 90 additional Airmen are expected to arrive from Dyess AFB and Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, in the coming weeks, bringing the 787th to full operational capacity for its 120-day mission by the end of the month.

The 787th's Airmen are working in close partnership with their Kentucky Air Guard colleagues, whose primary task is to offload cargo arriving in Senegal by 747 aircraft, stage it for forward movement, and upload it to Dyess C-130s for delivery to Liberia.

Since Oct. 5, the Kentucky troops -- augmented by six active-duty Airmen from Travis AFB, California, and Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey -- have coordinated flights for 128 military and civilian-contract aircraft, processed 336 passengers and handled over 600 tons of cargo.

"I couldn't be more pleased by what our Airmen have accomplished in such a short period of time," said Col. David Mounkes, the commander of the 123rd CRG and Joint Task Force-Port Opening Senegal. "It is especially gratifying to know that we're part of a much larger, global effort to render assistance to people who need our help fighting a horrible disease that has claimed more than 4,000 lives.

"Our unit was created to respond to contingencies of all kinds, from wartime taskings to natural disasters,” he said. “Every Airman in the group volunteered to join because he or she wanted to be a part of something that can deliver aid where it's needed, when it's needed, as efficiently as possible. This is what we do, and we feel privileged to be able to do it."

The Air Force operations in Senegal are part of a massive "whole-of-government" approach to Operation United Assistance, directed by the U.S. Agency for International Development and incorporating a broad array of federal agencies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Department of Defense.

The U.S. military has committed approximately 3,900 troops to support the mission. They will staff medical laboratories, provide training to local health-care workers, and build up to 17 100-bed Ebola Treatment Units and a 25-bed hospital. More than 1,600 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, DOD civilian employees and contractors are currently deployed to Senegal and Liberia in support of Operation United Assistance.