Airmen helping transport people from Lebanon

  • Published
  • By Louis A. Arana-Barradas
  • Air Force Print News
Three Air Force MH-53 Pave Low helicopters are part of the forces helping transport American citizens from Lebanon to Cyprus.

The aircraft, from the 352nd Special Operations Group at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, are operating out of Akrotiri, Cyprus. They have been doing this for several days, U.S. European Command spokesperson Maj. Pam Cook said.

The helicopters were in the region when tasked to provide support to the ongoing movement of Americans, the major said.

The Airmen join other U.S. military forces also helping in the operation. Other U.S. military units involved are the Navy's aircraft carrier Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. U.S. Central Command, which is directing all movement operations, had earlier sent a team of Air Force communications specialists to Cyprus.

Other Airmen are on standby to help with the operation, which Major Cook said should not be confused with noncombatant evacuation.

"This is not an evacuation because we're not taking everyone out of Lebanon," she said. "We're helping transport those people who want to leave."

The operation has been ongoing since Israel started bombing suspected Hezbollah positions in Lebanon last week. The airstrikes are in response to the militant group's capture of Israeli soldiers and its firing of rockets into Israel.

At McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., a contingency response group -- ready to go since July 18 -- is waiting for the order to deploy, base spokesman Tech. Sgt. Dwayne Gordon said.

"Everyone is on one-hour telephone standby -- ready to deploy," he said.

Contingency response groups are ideal for such operations. The rapid-reaction units fly into a location and set up all facets of airfield operations. Used for contingency and humanitarian operations, groups include Airmen from a host of critical specialties that can land and jump-start operations.

An Air Force official at the Pentagon said other Air Force units and bases have also gotten the word to be ready to help the ongoing operation, if needed.

And at Mildenhall today, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne said the Air Force effort to get people out of Lebanon is part of a larger team effort.

The secretary said this is a way for the U.S. military "to really follow through on a promise that the American government makes to its citizens, which is to ... try (its) best to extract them from harm's way."