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Chinook Helicopters Complete Aid Deliveries to Remote Pakistan

13 October 2006

Essential supplies reach earthquake victims ahead of Himalayan winter

Washington -- They landed on the edge of high mountains in spots that were sometimes less than 16 meters wide. But the pilots and crews of the United States Army Chinook helicopters were determined to airlift vital supplies to as many parts of Pakistan as they could before the severe Himalayan winter cuts off the remotest regions of the country.

The weeklong operation that ferried building materials to the Allai, Kaghan and Neelum valleys was completed October 12.  Construction of strong shelters to withstand coming storms now can continue thanks to the cement, iron sheeting and steel bars brought by the Chinooks, dubbed “Angels of Mercy” because of the swift and effective aid they facilitated after the devastating October 8, 2005, earthquake in South Asia. (See related article.)

Chinook pilot Bart McPeak said, “It’s a good feeling to know that with what we’ve brought them, they’ll be better prepared to get through the cold.” He piloted one of three Chinooks detailed for the mission.

In just one day, Dana and Machiara in the Northwest Frontier province received 25 tons of cement, steel bars and polyvinyl chloride piping to build a concrete tank for the local water supply system.

In addition to building materials, a special shipment of sewing machines was delivered to women in the Allai Valley. The machines will keep open three community centers that provide employment for women.

Some Chinook crew members who assisted in emergency relief operations immediately after the earthquake returned for this mission. At the peak period, 21 Chinook helicopters were involved in humanitarian missions bringing medical and other relief supplies to areas mostly inaccessible by road.

Some veterans of the earthquake relief operation who did not return wished they could. Major Neil Vining, an orthopedic surgeon with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH), spent several months in Azad Jammu and Kashmir treating severely injured victims. He has good memories of helping survivors. Speaking from Germany, he told the Washington File he was glad to have the chance to help. He was able to perform reconstructive surgery on badly injured victims. He said these patients are doing well today.

“It was a fantastic experience,” he said. “It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, an incredibly rewarding experience.”

He said he was touched by the response of the people. Vining recalled a man whose daughter’s leg was crushed during the earthquake but saved by surgery. “The family really had nothing. Whatever little they had was buried under the rubble. He would try to pay me.” Of course, Vining refused, until, on the advice of his Pakistani interpreter, he accepted a bag of walnuts. He remains in touch with the family, exchanging letters, which Vining has had translated from Urdu.

Major Jamie Mancuso, also with the 212th MASH, now back in the Washington area, told the Washington File he was struck by how “tremendously friendly” the local people were, often inviting the Americans to tea or a meal. “These people who had so much taken away from them were so hospitable and generous.”

He welcomed the opportunity to prevent outbreaks of disease, vaccinating those at risk, and to “positively impact health” in the area.

“The Pakistani military were our hosts, providing security,” Mancuso said. They hospitably took American doctors around, “establishing contacts and helped us to identify priorities,” he said.

Mancuso said of his experience in Pakistan, “I don’t think it’s overstating it to say it was the highlight of my military career.”

The 212th MASH is the last unit to be converted to a Combat Support Hospital, a modernized version of the front line medical unit. 

Since the South Asian earthquake, the United States has continued to assist Pakistan in reconstruction of the areas where 3.4 million people lost their homes. Over the next four years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will distribute $206 million for rebuilding schools, homes and hospitals. The grant is in addition to a five-year, $1.5 billion program to improve education, health, governance and economic growth in Pakistan.

For additional information, see U.S. Response to the Earthquake in South Asia.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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