Air mobility: connecting missions, hearts and lives for Haiti|
Posted 1/17/2010 Updated 1/16/2010
by Staff Sgt. Daniel Bowles
628th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
1/17/2010 - CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) -- At approximately 6 p.m. Jan. 14, a Charleston AFB C-17 and crew departed on the base's first mission to bring the humanitarian relief to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which was struck Jan. 12 by a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
Charleston AFB began launching relief aircraft to augment the overall coalition effort currently underway to aid Haiti disaster victims.
The 437th and 315th Airlift Wings here are projected to provide additional airlift for relief personnel, equipment and supplies as directed by U.S. Transportation Command and requested by U.S. Southern Command.
One of three commands under USTRANSCOM, the Air Force's Air Mobility Command is fully prepared to provide any support necessary to aid Haiti relief efforts, AMC officials said.
Already underway are two additional humanitarian relief missions, which departed Charleston AFB early Jan. 15. Between the two most recent missions, as many as 80 Federal Emergency Management Agency search and rescue personnel are expected to be on board.
Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Denis McDonough, one of many who have been transported via Charleston AFB C-17s, said the relief effort can only do good for the country, which is commonly accepted to be the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Compounding relief challenges even further, the airfield infrastructure required to provide rapid air delivery of supplies had been severely weakened following the earthquake, said 1st Lt. Ryan Fisher, 817th Contingency Response Group assistant director of operations.
The first mission from Charleston AFB was directed at improving the airfield conditions, by providing mobility support for deploying Airmen with the 817th CRG, based at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, who possess the expertise needed to reinvigorate the crippled Port-au-Prince airfield. The C-17 mission departed Charleston AFB, rushing up the East Coast and landing at JB MDL at approximately 8 p.m. , where air transportation specialists with the 305th Aerial Port Squadron, affectionately known as "Port Dawgs," immediately began loading the aircraft.
The load-out included a mobile command and control unit used for advanced communications with aircraft, ground vehicles and ground radios, as well as satellite communication equipment. The control unit was painted an illustrious desert tan, an obvious improvement designed for concealment in a Middle Eastern wartime environment, yet now was to be used for a much different purpose.
With the suffering Haitian people waiting for relief, there was a sense of purpose to be acknowledged, and the Port Dawgs with the 305th APS wasted no time, pushing, pulling and hauling the remaining cargo into the cavity of the C-17. The final "items" on the load plan ended up loading themselves ... approximately 20 Airmen from the 817th CRG who would be deploying in support of Haiti relief efforts to aid their exhausted counterparts who were already on the ground in Haiti getting operations underway.
For many Airmen in the group, the expedition will be a first-time experience, said Staff Sgt. Jed Bigler, 816th Contingency Response Group communications technicians, who will be staying back to help mobilize the 817th CRG.
It had been some time since a world event called upon the unit's unique abilities in such a vast way, he said. Nonetheless, he said he was ready.
"I saw the damage on the news and thought, 'I better pack my bags,'" Sergeant Bigler said. "We expect the unexpected and train for that."
As it turned out, it was not his group which will be deployed.
The 817th CRG is expected to deploy to Haiti for at least a month, and the group is prepared to stay until the mission is complete, said Lieutenant Fisher. The unit brings along food, water, tents for shelter, and all the necessities to accomplish their mission.
"The [contingency response group] is like an air base in a box," Lieutenant Fisher said. "We bring sanity to chaos."
Missions began flying out of JB MDL bound for Haiti in the early afternoon Jan. 14. The arrival of the Charleston AFB crew in New Jersey was assigned to transport the third wave of Airmen and equipment scheduled to leave the base for Port-au-Prince, according to JB MDL airfield management.
The hop to Haiti was no stone's throw across the pond, but the time passed fast enough for passengers on board, with most taking a quick nap before arriving at Port-au-Prince. Within minutes of arrival, the sense of urgency was apparent as Port Dawgs once again arrived on the scene.
The aircraft ramp was a tight squeeze for the monstrous C-17, and mere feet separated parked aircraft from other aircraft taxiing past them.
As the Charleston C-17 sat on the airfield, other aircraft were landing and taking off in nearly pitch-black conditions. In a city that once glowed with illumination for millions, some of the last beacons left lit were only the few bright runway lights of the airfield, guiding relief aircraft one-by-one.
With all the cargo unloaded from the jet, Col. Patrick Hollrah, 817th CRG commander, said operations were sitting at 75 percent and improving, but challenges still remained because of the size of the airfield ramp and the number of people available to work.
By the time the Charleston crew departed Haiti and returned home, it was approximately 8 a.m. The crew, worn for wear from the long mission, expressed confidence in their contribution to the relief effort.
"The mission was definitely a success," said Maj. John Cousins, the mission aircraft commander from the 317th Airlift Squadron.
"Things have already improved within the last 24 hours ... Things are flowing better, but definitely with the people we delivered and their equipment, it's just going to continue to improve, and the infrastructure of the base is gong to be able to handle more cargo," he said.
"We're the only air force in the world that has the ability to deliver that kind of cargo in that amount of time. It's a huge impact to be able to take our C-17s and deliver this much needed [contingency response group] and the supplies that are going to follow the CRG."