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AMC aircraft, people support tsunami relief operations

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (USTCNS) --- In the days following the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster in South and Southeast Asia, Air Mobility Command aircraft and people have delivered tons of relief equipment and hundreds of essential military personnel into the affected region.

As of Jan. 5, AMC aircraft and aircrews had delivered more than one million pounds of cargo and 567 passengers in support of tsunami relief operations.

According to Col. Richard Richardson, director of operations for the Tanker Airlift Control Center, as soon as officials here learned of the tsunami disaster, they were standing ready in case AMC aircraft and personnel were needed. The first call came on Dec. 29 when a C-17 Globemaster III from McChord AFB, Wash., was tasked to transport a C-130 maintenance package from Yokota Air Base, Japan, to Utapao, Thailand. C-130 aircraft from Yokota are providing critical theater airlift within the tsunami-devastated countries.

In the days following that initial tasking, AMC C-5 Galaxies and C-17 Globemaster IIIs were called upon nearly 20 times, transporting into the area of operations everything from helicopters and relief equipment, to support personnel and emergency responders.

Colonel Richardson said as of Jan. 5, AMC had six C-5 aircraft staged out of Kadena AB, Japan, and four McChord C-17s staged out of Utapao. Another C-17, from Charleston AFB, S.C., was on its way to the region Jan. 4 after picking up U.S. Army civil affairs personnel and equipment.

He said the C-5s include three active-duty aircraft from Travis AFB, Calif., and three Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard planes from Lackland AFB, Texas; Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y.; and Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. The colonel added that Reserve and Guard participation during the relief operations is "significant" and "outstanding."

As of Jan. 5, AMC aircraft had airlifted the following equipment and personnel in support of tsunami relief operations:

-- Communications equipment and personnel assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps' 7th Communication Battalion in Japan.

-- Air Force C-17s transported six HH-60 helicopters and two CH-46 helicopters and related support equipment. A single C-17 can carry two CH-46 helicopters.

-- Two U.S. Marine Corps Force Service Support Groups. The FSSGs provide combat service support to Marine Corps forces worldwide.

-- A U.S. Navy Seabee from Guam. The colonel said the Seabees were transported to the tsunami-devastated region to provide critical water-well-drilling support.

-- A C-17 maintenance package from McChord.

-- Personnel and equipment assigned to Kadena's 18th Communications Squadron.

In addition to airlifting people and equipment, AMC also provided a Tanker Airlift Control Element out of Travis. The TALCE will provide on-site management of AMC airfield operations, including command and control, communications, aerial port services, maintenance, security, weather, and intelligence -- those critical elements needed to ensure safe and highly efficient air bases for all tanker and airlift operations.

AMC's initial relief efforts haven't gone unnoticed.

According to a senior U.S. Agency for International Development official, support from AMC aircraft has been both welcomed and necessary.

USAID is the lead governmental department responsible for U.S. tsunami relief operations.

Edward Fox, assistant administrator for legislative and public affairs at USAID, said "the one thing that distinguishes the United States from the rest of the world is its military, especially the Air Force and its airlift capability."

He said Air Force airlift is a central part of any relief effort of this magnitude.

"To be able to provide the type of emergency response needed to save lives, the Air Force logistical capability is indispensable to USAID and others in the international relief area, because we don't have those types of assets," explained Mr. Fox. "We are extremely delighted and proud to be working side by side with the U.S. Air Force."

For example, Mr. Fox said the helicopters being delivered by AMC aircraft "are worth their weight in gold." He explained that the topography of Indonesia and other countries struck by this disaster make normal means of transportation impossible.

"Without the helicopters we wouldn't be able to get the assessment teams in to determine what response to take," explained Mr. Fox. "Helicopters also provide a lifeline to get water, food and medical supplies into these communities to sustain them in the early stages of a disaster; until the normal modes of the transportation are restored."

Mr. Fox said the most urgent problem they face now is the prevention of further loss of life caused by the effects of the tsunami -- contaminated water supplies, people dislodged from their homes, and the threat of disease.

"This is the perfect breeding ground for major health problems and diseases which could kill as many people as the event itself," he said. "The ability to provide clean drinking water, plastic sheeting for shelter, water purification kits, and food supplies is literally saving lives."

For this and other reasons, Mr. Fox said "the (importance of the) logistic lift capability provided by the U.S. Air Force cannot be overstated."

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