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More McChord relief flights headed to Haiti

Post by Christian Hill / The News Tribune on Jan. 18, 2010 at 10:38 am |
January 18, 2010 10:38 am

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Relief efforts by McChord aircrews to Haiti continue.

Master Sgt. Dean Miller, a spokesman at McChord, said another C-17 Globemaster III cargo jet was scheduled to depart at 1 p.m. today headed for the Caribbean nation devastated by last week’s earthquake.

 A third flight departed McChord at 8 p.m. Sunday. The crew of five on that flight will travel to Charleston to load bottled water for immediate transport to Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince. Once unloaded, the crew will airlift evacuees back to the United States, according to a press release.

The two initial flights left early Sunday morning. Local media outlets covered one of those flights, which loaded equipment at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia before unloading it in Haiti. The crew then airlifted more than 180 evacuees to Orlando before flying to Charleston.

Miller said additional flights could be tasked out of McChord at any time.

McChord airmen are contributing to Operation Unified Response, a humanitarian effort led by U.S. Southern Command.

 ”McChord Airmen are proud to be part of this humanitarian effort,” said Col. Kevin Kilb commander of the 62nd Airlift Wing, the active-duty component based at McChord. “Our ability to conduct these operations is due to the partnership and expertise of both the active-duty and Reserve airmen here at McChord.”

McChord’s continuing role in the effort is indicative of a relief effort growing by the hour and day. But there are challenges.

 Outside the airport Sunday, people assisting the relief effort expressed frustration that the food, water and supplies arriving there weren’t quickly getting out to the populace in need. Gen. Ken Keen, the on-the-ground U.S. commander in Haiti, acknowledged the bottleneck at the airport with a single runway and little space for parked planes.

“We’re working aggressively to open up other ways to get in here,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” according to The Associated Press.

Capt. Dustin Doyle of the 621st Contingency Response Wing said the U.S. military is trying to move traffic as quickly and efficiently as possible. The unit’s role is to open airfields to support air operations in times of war and during disasters.

He said there are some major U.S. airports that don’t handle as many flights as Haiti is now.

“We’re operating almost 100 (flights a day out of here), and if you look outside, it’s not that big of an airport. There’s one runway. There’s one ramp coming into the parking area so it’s a logistical challenge, but these guys are meeting it head-on. They’re doing a great job,” Doyle said aboard a C-17 before it transported the evacuees to Orlando.

The air crews are evacuating from Haiti both U.S. citizens and those with family members living stateside. At least one person waiting outside the airport with dozens of others expressed frustration at the delays and lack of assistance. He had been waiting 10 hours and was only offered a bottle of water.

“There’s a lot of people trying to get out,” Doyle said, “and that’s why we are trying to get them out. There’s going to be a little bit of waiting but it requires patience on behalf of everybody because this is a pretty major situation.”

U.S. military personnel continue to flow into the disaster area. Boarding at Langley on Sunday were six members of an Army unit, the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element based at Fort Eustis, Va.., that will unload arriving aircrafts and get the equipment and supplies to relief agencies and military units assisting in the relief effort. The remaining members of the unit will arrive on other flights.

Pfc. Thurman Trader, 26, said he’s deployed to combat areas and the uncertain situation in Haiti doesn’t worry him too much.

“I’m just ready to go do something to help out the humanitarian effort,” he said. He said his deployment could last up to six months.

The relief effort is a departure for McChord airmen who have grown accustomed to the flight patterns and procedures for flying equipment and personnel in support of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 “You have to be ready the unexpected,” said Capt. Anthony Cappel, a C-17 commander, before leaving Langley. “It’s not like you can park on the side of the road and pull out a map. Things keep moving whether you want them to or not.”

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