Aircrews deliver relief supplies to Haiti

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Denise Johnson
  • Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst officials launched the first of several C-17 Globemaster IIIs mid-afternoon Jan. 14 in support of relief operations following a massive earthquake in Haiti.

The 21 passengers and six crewmembers represented four wings assigned to JB McGuire signifying the symbiotic relationships between varying units in both active and Reserve operations.

Members of the 621st Contingency Response Wing made up the bulk of the team. They were dropped off with 44 tons of equipment at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport, Haiti, on tentative 30-day orders.

"It takes teamwork and combined efforts in the face of a tragedy of this magnitude," said Col. Hoot Hollrah, the 817th Contingency Response Group commander out of the 621st CRW. "This is what we are trained to do and its what we do well. We respond rapidly and effectively in hopes we can alleviate unnecessary suffering and provide a platform for further relief efforts."

The 621st CRW members joined 13 others from their unit who were diverted from an exercise in Mississippi and flown to Haiti earlier today. Airmen of the 621st CRWs respond as a forward element, providing initial shelter, communications, command and control and administrative support during real-world emergency, humanitarian or contingency-response situations.

"We really didn't know what to expect, so we prepared for any eventuality," said Maj. Jason Worley, a Reserve pilot with the 732nd Airlift Squadron. "We took on additional fuel in case we were put on a holding pattern in the air for an extended period of time due to limited parking space for the aircraft."

The runway reached nearly 10,000 feet in length, posing no problem for the C-17 that can land on as little as 3,500 feet of runway.

Five Air Force reservists made up the pilot and loadmaster crew from the 732nd AS. The cargo plane, owned by the active-duty 305th Air Mobility Wing, also carried a flying crew chief from the 305th AMW and a media escort from the 87th Air Base Wing.

The 3.5-hour journey delivered the response team just after dark on the eastern coast of the devastated country about eight hours after the 13-member advance team. The 621st CRW aerial porters and the 732nd AS loadmasters combined forces and immediately began offloading the cargo. The cargo included a fuel bladder and mobile command unit while the flight crew conducted landing checklists.

As the cargo door opened to its full 14.75 feet in height, the crew and passengers were met by members of the 1st Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron out of Hurlburt Field, Fla., who had arrived two days prior.

Tech. Sgt. Charlie Lott and Tech. Sgt. Jamie Jimenez, 1st SOLRS air transportation specialists, drove the forklift guided by the 732nd ALS loadmasters.

"Our team has been supporting aircraft from places like Venezuela, China, Peru, Brazil, Cuba ... just about any that come in," Sergeant Lott said. "Some of the planes are carrying NATO supplies and people."

The 1st SOLRS members were wrapping up an operational readiness exercise at home station when the earthquake hit.

"We were ready to go since we had just geared up for the exercise, so it didn't take much time before we had boots on the ground," Sergeant Jimenez said.

The remnants of damage were visible at the airport, depicting broken windows and glass with much of the area in the dark, some lights; however, had been restored rather quickly.

"When we first got here it was kind of scary. There were no lights or anything and there were people who had been waiting for help for more than 13 hours," Sergeant Lott said. "We gave the people some water and were surprised at how quickly some of the lights were back on."

Matthew Marek, a Red Cross country representative, said Port-au-Prince was a disaster beyond the confines of the airport. "It's nuts. A total disaster. An inferno of bodies (and) dust, not fire."

The country representative said he has been in Haiti for the past eight years, three of which have been with the Red Cross. He was in his office, located in the Port-au-Prince area, when the earthquake struck.

"(The earthquake) was consistently loud and angry," he said. "Even last night strong tremors shook my apartment, which is where I'm working since my office is no longer stable."

The visiting forces and nations spread across the airport apron, while rotating aircraft continued to land carrying more supplies and rescue workers. None; however, could share in the Haitians' personal trauma as dump trucks of bodies were being driven through the road-blocked streets, Mr. Marek said.

"This is a frustrated population as they live with the scent of the death of their families and their neighbors," Mr. Marek said. "Their needs are too numerous to list: food, water, sanitation ... from a health perspective, the bodies must be cleaned up."

The Red Cross worker said he's in touch with other Red Cross members via satellite phone, assisting in coordinating relief efforts, but, he said, "the damage is so huge, so large, that it is evident it will be some time before the population feels any relief."

As the C-17 aircrew prepared for takeoff, the second of six C-17 rotations from JB McGuire landed in Haiti.

"The Air Force and JB MDL will continue to join our sister services and the array of other nations providing humanitarian aid the people of Haiti so desperately need," said Col. Gina Grosso, the JB MDL commander. "It is never more important to join forces than at moments like this, when the color of flags and uniforms no longer matter, when its humanity that's at stake."